The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the July 14 attack in Nice, France.
Citing an “insider source,” propagandists working for the Amaq News Agency wrote: “Executor of the deadly operation in Nice, France was a soldier of the Islamic State. He executed the operation in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations, which fight the Islamic State.”
Amaq News is the most prolific outlet in the Islamic State’s propaganda machine. Its statement was quickly followed up by other official claims from the group. The messages do not include any specific details about the terrorist responsible, nor do they indicate that the so-called caliphate had foreknowledge of his plans. But the Islamic State’s international network could have been involved.
French officials and media outlets have identified Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31 year-old originally from Tunisia, as the assailant. At least 84 people were killed when he drove a truck into a Bastille Day celebration. Counterterrorism officials in France and elsewhere are working to determine if Bouhlel had any solid connections to the Islamic State’s external operations arm, which has been plotting operations in Europe, or was inspired by the group’s call to violence.
Amaq’s wording — namely, labeling Bouhlel a “soldier of the Islamic State” — is the same formulation used after past attacks.
For example, the Islamic State’s propaganda arms described the May 2015 shooters in Garland, Tex. and the couple who assaulted a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. in Dec. 2015 as the group’s “soldiers.” The San Bernardino terrorists were also labeled “supporters.” The team of jihadists responsible for the Nov. 2015 assault in Paris was hailed as “a group of believers from the soldiers of the Caliphate.”
Omar Mateen, who repeatedly pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi the night of his attack on a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla. in June, was described as a “fighter” for the organization.
The Islamic State has repeatedly called on its members and supporters to kill civilians in the West. The number of committed jihadists and new recruits willing to heed this call has increased dramatically since 2014. By their own admission, however, the Islamic State’s leadership has also been met with some resistance when it comes to killing civilians, as opposed to members of the military or government officials.
“It has reached us that some of you do not act due to their incapacity to reach military targets, or their finding fault with targeting those who are called ‘civilians,’ so they leave harming them, doubting the permissibility thereof,” Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani said during a speech in May. “Know that inside the lands of the belligerent crusaders, there is no sanctity of blood and no existence of those called ‘innocents,’” Adnani continued.
Adnani boasted that the “list” of evidence he could cite to justify such attacks was “too long” to be mentioned at the time. But he added that “their [the West’s] warplanes do not distinguish between one who is armed and another who is unarmed, nor between a man and a woman.”
“Know that your targeting those who are called ‘civilians’ is more beloved to us and more effective, as it is more harmful, painful, and a greater deterrent to them,” Adnani assured his audience.
Al Bayan, another propaganda outlet for the “caliphate,” followed up Amaq’s statement with one of its own. Al Bayan emphasized that the attack in Nice was carried out in “response to calls from the Islamic State to target states participating in the Crusader coalition that fights the Caliphate,” according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Bayan described Bouhlel as a “soldier from the soldiers of the State,” adding that he had executed a “new, unique operation” with a “large truck.” The message didn’t offer any details on Bouhlel’s attack that aren’t already widely known, but it will take some time before a more complete picture comes into focus.