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Why the Las Vegas shooting isn't being called terrorism

Oct 2, 2017, 22:40 IST

Law enforcement officers are shown on Las Vegas Boulevard South on October 2, 2017, after a mass shooting during a music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

At least 58 people were killed and more than 500 injured after a gunman opened fire on a densely packed crowd on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday.

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The incident is the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. But authorities were quick to point out that they are not labeling the incident an act of terrorism.

"We do not know what [the gunman's] belief system was at this time," Joseph Lombardo, sheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said Monday. "Right now we believe it is a sole actor, a lone-wolf-type actor, and we have the place under control."

Despite the unprecedented number of casualties, the incident doesn't qualify as terrorism under federal law, which defines terrorism as the "unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

In other words, if we don't know the gunman's motivations, it's too early to call something an act of terrorism.

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"We have the tendency to label anything we abhor as terrorism," Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University director of security studies and expert on terrorism, told Business Insider. "But the fact is, even if it may cause terror and generate profound fear and anxiety, it's the political motive that is salient in determining whether it's an act of terrorism."

At a press conference on Monday, FBI special agent Aaron Rouse said his agency has discovered "no connection" between the gunman and international terrorist groups.

However, the federal definition of terrorism seems to differ with a Nevada statute that defines the term more broadly. The state law defines terrorism as "any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population."

Prematurely labeling an incident terrorism can have "enormous legal and operational ramifications," Hoffman told Business Insider. But the label can change, he said, as investigators uncover more details about the gunman's history and potential clues into his political ideology.

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