In an effort to maintain its credibility in response to mounting setbacks, ISIS has taken unwarranted credit for attacks, encouraged its followers to provide overt attribution following attacks, and relied on media operations. Despite ISIS continuing to expand its influence in Southeast Asia, the group has lost more than 95 percent of the territory it held during its peak in 2015, as well as approximately 40 leaders in 2017, including external attack planners, propagandists, and battlefield commanders.
Last year, ISIS falsely claimed responsibility for two attacks. In June, ISIS took responsibility for a robbery that killed 37 people at a casino in Manila, Philippines. In October, ISIS took credit for the mass shooting in Las Vegas, where Stephen Paddock shot and killed 58 and injured 546. Following this attack, ISIS pushed propaganda maintaining it had a role in the attack, even giving the shooter an Arabic name. To date, the FBI found no evidence that ISIS played any role.
In the second issue of its English-language magazine, Rumiyah, ISIS provided instructions for would-be attackers, stating, “it is essential to leave some kind of evidence or insignia identifying the motive and allegiance to the Khalifah [ISIS], even if it is something as simple as a note pinned or attached to the victim’s body, or a final testament if the operation will be of a nature where the expected outcome is one’s shahadah [martyrdom].” The authors asserted that evidence and proof of allegiance to ISIS is necessary in order for attacks to not be mistaken as “random acts of violence.”
In 2016, ISIS released a guide discussing the role of propaganda in its strategy. The authors said “media operatives”—those who generate and spread ISIS propaganda—are as important as soldiers. ISIS believes “the mainstream media is considered to be an effective weapon that, if leveraged correctly, has ‘far-reaching’ power that can exceed that of the most powerful bombs,” according to a UK-based think tank.