LAS VEGAS: At least 58 people were killed and over 500 injured when a gunman opened fire from a 32nd floor hotel room on a country music concert in Las Vegas in an attack claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group.
Police identified the heavily armed attacker behind the Sunday night massacre on the Las Vegas Strip — the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history — as a 64-year-old Nevada resident named Stephen Craig Paddock.
Police claimed that Paddock killed himself before a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team breached his room in the Mandalay Bay hotel overlooking the concert venue.
President Donald Trump denounced what he called “an act of pure evil” and said he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday.
IS claims its ‘newly-converted soldier’ carried out attack
He did not make any mention of the IS claim that one of its “soldiers” who had “converted to Islam several months ago” was behind the shooting.
IS provided no evidence to back up the claim made by its propaganda outlet Amaq.
Concert-goers screamed and fled in panic as a steady stream of automatic gunfire rang out from the hotel shortly after 10pm (0500 GMT Monday).
Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters that at least eight rifles were recovered from Paddock’s hotel room. “We believe the individual killed himself prior to our entry,” Mr Lombardo said.
Stephen Craig Paddock, who photographs showed as greying with a trimmed beard and moustache, was a former accountant and a licensed pilot with no criminal record, according to ABC News. Eric Paddock, the gunman’s brother, said he was at a complete loss to understand what may have motivated the shooting.
“This is an asteroid falling out of the sky,” Mr Eric told CBS News. He also said his brother had “no religious affiliation, no political affiliation”. “He was my brother. He was a guy. He gambled,” Mr Eric said.
He said his brother had no history of mental illness and was not an avid gun guy at all.
Las Vegas police said at least 58 people had been killed and 500 had been hospitalised following the attack. They issued an appeal for blood donations.
Paddock resided in a new golf course development in the desert just outside Mesquite in Nevada, around 130km of Las Vegas.
His female companion was initially listed as a person of interest by police but they said later she was not believed to be involved.
Police said 22,000 fans were attending the concert next to the Mandalay Bay as part of a three-day country music festival known as Route 91 when the gunfire erupted.
Witnesses told how Paddock opened fire with an initial long burst, and then appeared to reload as he continued his spree. “We heard (what) sounded like a glass breaking, so you looked around to see what’s going on and then heard a pop, pop, pop,” Monique Dekerf told CNN.
“You’d think for a moment okay we’re fine, there’s no more gunfire, then it starts again.”
Her sister Rachel said it sounded like “the shots were coming from the right side... it sounded like they were right beside us too... it was right there”.
Best-selling country singer Jason Aldean was on stage and near the end of his concert when the shooting began.
Aldean initially carried on playing when the first crackle of gunfire could be heard but then hurried off the stage once he realised it was a shooting.
Robert Hayes, a firefighter from Los Angeles who was watching near the front of the stage, said he first thought the gunfire was some kind of equipment malfunction.
Once he realised what was going on, he joined the first responders, donning one of their vests.
“Honestly I probably pronounced 15-20 people” dead, he told Fox News. “It was pretty much like a war scene inside.” Emergency crews used anything to hand as makeshift stretchers, including tables and metal railings normally used to control the crowds, said Mr Hayes.
Asked if he thought it was an inexperienced gunman, he responded: “With 30,000 people in the arena area, it was kind of like shooting goldfish ... He didn’t have to be good.”
The Las Vegas attack is the deadliest shooting in recent US history, exceeding the toll of 49 dead in an attack on the Pulse nightclub at Orlando in Florida in June 2016.
It was also the latest in a series of recent deadly attacks at concert venues.
Twenty-two people were killed while leaving an Ariana Grande concert in the northern English city of Manchester in May when a suicide bomber detonated a nail bomb in the foyer.
Ninety people were killed in November 2015 at the Bataclan venue in Paris during a concert by US band the Eagles of Death Metal.
A shocked Aldean told his fans via Instagram that he and his band were safe.
“Tonight has been beyond horrific,” the singer wrote.
“It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night.” Pope Francis said he was “deeply saddened” by the “senseless tragedy” while Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May called it an “appalling attack”.
Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2017