New attacks feared after Tunisia, Kuwait, France

Friday 03/07/2015
Grieving Tunisians

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.