Day of bloodshed leaves more than 60 dead and stokes fears of jihadists
Published 27/06/2015 | 02:30
It was a bloody day: a wave of attacks across three continents within a matter of hours, leaving more than 60 dead and stoking fresh fears about the threat posed by jihadists claiming affiliation with or inspired by Islamic State, the militant group also known as Isil.
In France, militants raided an American-owned chemical factory near Grenoble, decapitated one man and attempted to blow up the complex. Soon after, gunmen opened fire on the beach in the popular Tunisian resort of Sousse, killing at least 39 people, including British, German, Tunisian and Belgian nationals, as well as Irish mother-of-two Lorna Carty from Co Meath. As horror unfolded in France and Tunisia, a suicide bomber targeted one of the largest Shia mosques in Kuwait during Friday prayers, killing and injuring dozens of worshippers.
While there was no evidence to suggest the attacks had been co-ordinated, they occurred around the same time, and came just days after Isil urged such strikes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Its spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani had called on supporters to "rush and move to make Ramadan a month of disaster". Isil claimed responsibility for the attack in Kuwait, but there were no immediate claims of responsibility for the other atrocities.
The assault in Tunisia threatens to devastate what is left of the country's already crippled tourism sector, the mainstay of its economy.
It had already taken a hit in March when at least 23 people died after Isil militants stormed the landmark Bardo Museum in Tunis.
Until yesterday, that attack had been the deadliest targeting tourists in the region since the 1997 massacre of more than 60 holidaymakers in Luxor, Egypt.
In a subsequent audio statement, Isil said it had targeted "crusaders and apostates" in the Bardo strike and warned that it was "just the start".
The suicide attack in Kuwait will jangle nerves in the tiny Gulf state where relations between Sunnis and Shia have been little affected by the blatant sectarianism that has poisoned many other parts of the region. Observers drew comparisons between the bombing and other recent attacks by Isil on Shia mosques in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, speculating that their aim is to spark conflict between Sunni and Shia.
The assault in France, while much smaller, comes as the country is still reeling from deadly attacks on the satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' and a Paris kosher supermarket which claimed 17 lives in January. Since then the country's security services have been on high-alert, with a heavy army and police presence at airports and train stations.
Politicians who had been locked in a heated debate on national security and surveillance for the last six months responded to yesterday's attack by saying France should not give in to fear.
One of the suspected assailants in the Grenoble attack was arrested and named as 35-year-old Yassin Salhi. He was known to French security forces over suspected links to a hardline Salafist group, but has no criminal record. He and the other attacker were carrying the black flag used by Isil.
As yet, there is no clear link between the attack and Isil but it will feed anxieties about Europeans who have either fought with Isil in Syria and Iraq or become radicalised online and claim an affiliation with its ideology.
Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, estimates that at least 5,000 EU citizens are either currently fighting alongside jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, or have travelled to those countries and returned home.
These fighters can use their European passports to travel across the continent undetected, then enter Turkey and slip across the border to Syria.
The fear is that these youths, who include women as well as men, might return to Europe radicalised and primed to stage attacks at home.
Earlier this year, Europol director Rob Wainwright told a British parliamentary committee that these fighters represented the greatest threat to European security since September 11, 2001.
Last year, Belgium became the first EU member state to experience an attack by a militant returning from Syria when a French national named Mehdi Nemmouche gunned down four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels. In January, Belgian police killed two men during a house raid aimed at disrupting a plot to attack police officers across Belgium. The men - both of them Belgian nationals - had been to Syria.
It is not known if any of the attackers in Tunisia, Kuwait and France yesterday had travelled to Syria. But the common thread appears to be that all were inspired by the Isil ideology that has found new expression in that country's chaos.