Early Analysis of the Orlando Attack

-It’s terrorism. Like the shootings in San Bernardino, the church in Charleston, and the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, this was political. In this case, the shooter targeted the entire gay community and not just the people who were tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time.

-The attacker was Muslim, but it’s unclear if he’s a jihadist. We know that he targeted a gay nightclub, and we know his father said that he was enraged when he saw two men kissing (people showing each other affection? Of all the things to be angry about…) So we know he was anti-gay, but don’t yet know if he had any additional political agenda.

-If there’s a jihadist element to the attack, it’s likely inspired by, rather than sent by. Like the San Bernardino attack, it appears this was the work of a self-starter: an individual who sympathized with ISIS, al Qaeda, or jihadist ideology more generally, and launched the attack on his own, without direction. By contrast, a professional attack, like in Paris, typically involves multiple operatives.

-Police say he wasn’t wearing a suicide vest (the Paris attackers did) which further indicates he was a self-starter rather than an operative directed by a central organization.

-Unfortunately, self-starters are extremely difficult to stop in advance. They’re not in contact with anyone known to be a member of a terrorist group, which makes it almost impossible to identify them before they strike.

-ABC News says the shooter was “’on the radar’ of U.S. officials for some time, but was not the target of a specific investigation.” While this makes it seem as if they should have stopped him, that’s almost certainly hindsight bias. If he hadn’t committed a crime before, there would be no grounds to arrest him. At the very least, we know that he worked as a security guard and a license for his legally acquired weaponry.

-Ever since Abu Sayyaf killed 202 people at a nightclub in Bali in 2002, I’ve been surprised that we haven’t seen more attempts like that. A lot of people concentrated in a small space with few exits makes for a tempting target because attackers can kill many people in a short amount of time before security services can get a handle on the situation. With this attack, and a similar attack in Paris against a concert hall, I fear these may become more common.

-One safe prediction: people will exploit this tragedy for various preconceived political positions, managing to make a terrible thing even worse.

UPDATE: There are reports that Homeland Security says the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS. That’s similar to the San Bernardino attackers, and provides additional evidence that this was a self-starter attack. Established members of a terrorist group don’t need to announce that they’ve pledged allegiance. Instead, the group officially claims the attack, which hasn’t happened in this instance (though that could change).

UPDATE II: Amaq, ISIS’ news agency, released a statement claiming responsibility for the shooting in Orlando. It is unclear, however, whether the group is claiming responsibility for inspiring the shooter, or if it trained him and planned the attack.