New attacks feared after Tunisia, Kuwait, France
BEIRUT and TUNIS - Jihadist killers, inspired if not directed by the Islamic State (ISIS), slaughtered more than 65 people and wounded hundreds more in a June 26th wave of violence that ran from an industrial zone in south-eastern France, through a crowded Tunisian tourist beach to a Shia mosque in Kuwait.
Rarely has there been a one-day terrorist broadside on such a geographical sweep and it underlined the capabilities of ISIS to attack anywhere, not just in the Muslim world but the West as well.
The intention was clearly to target Shia Muslims and Westerners, branded as apostates and infidels by ISIS, stir sectarian unrest, undermine the collapsing Middle East order and radicalise a generation of angry and unemployed young people. It seeks to destroy the fragile, fledgling democracy in Tunisia, the one state to emerge from the “Arab spring” with any prospect of real political change.
A week after the June 26th rampages it is still unclear whether this was a coordinated ISIS assault or the work of lone wolf jihadists acting independently in coincidentally near-simultaneous attacks. But ISIS’s imprimatur was clearly evident, even if at a distance. Three days earlier the Sunni group’s spokesman urged its followers to attack Shias and “apostates” during Ramadan and to mark the anniversary of the caliphate ISIS declared on June 29, 2014.
There are fears of more attacks inspired by the ISIS call to arms in the remaining days of the Ramadan.
The day of horror began near Lyon in France. At around 9.30am, delivery driver Yassine Salhi decapitated his employer then stuck the head, along with flags bearing Islamic inscriptions on the fence of a US-owned factory.
Salhi, a local Muslim, then drove his truck into the factory where an explosion destroyed a storage building containing liquid air, acetone and gas cylinders. Security officials said Salhi, who was arrested, wanted to blow up the entire facility.
Officials said Salhi had been monitored by security agencies for links to Salafists in France since 2006, but the surveillance was called off in 2014. He appeared to be a “lone wolf” operative but beheadings are an ISIS signature.
The second atrocity took place soon after in Kuwait City. A Saudi suicide bomber detonated explosives hidden under his white robes at a Shia mosque packed with 2,000 worshippers for noon prayers. The blast killed 27 and wounded 227.
The attack was claimed by the Wilayat Najd, an ISIS affiliate. It bombed two Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia and killed 26 people in May.
But the bloodiest assault was on Boujaafar beach at the Tunisian resort of Sousse where a gunman killed 38 people and wounded dozens more. Almost all of the victims were European tourists.
Witnesses said the killer was “very, very calm” as he strolled down the beach firing an assault rifle at holidaymakers.
He continued his indiscriminate killing at a hotel before he was shot dead by police. They identified him as Seifeddine Rezgui, an engineering student in Kairouan.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the slaughter and described Rezgui as “a soldier of the caliphate”.
The massacre was clearly intended to destroy Tunisia’s tourism industry, its economic mainstay. In an attack in March at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, terrorists killed 21 people, almost all foreigners.
Ed Blanche, based in Beirut, is Analysis section editor of The Arab Weekly. Yassine Halila is a Tunis correspondent.