On Friday 26th June 2015, more than 60 people were killed across three continents in separate attacks. On the day, wires began circulating information of a beheading in France. As information spread of the presence of an “Islamic” flag at the scene, reports began to filter through from Tunisia, and then Kuwait.
In Tunisia, a lone gunman began firing at unsuspected holidaymakers in Sousse. The individual later identified as Seifeddine Rezgui was thought to have opened fire on the unsuspecting tourists, pulling a Kalashnikov from a parasol and deploying grenades throughout the attack. The hotels that were targeted were ill prepared for such an attack. The police and military were quickly deployed; Rezgui killed at the hands of the security forces. 39 people were killed in the attack, a combination of Tunisians and those from European countries. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office have so far confirmed that 15 of the total figure were British. The number of British fatalities is likely to rise, as individuals are identified. The figures make this the largest domestic terrorist attack on Tunisian soil. It is also the highest death toll of British citizens through terrorism since 7/7. The destructive capabilities of one individual and the vulnerability of the victims have sent shockwaves throughout the world. This is the second attack in which foreign individuals have been targeted and killed at tourist sites. Elloumi, the Tunisian Tourism Minister has described the event as a “catastrophe”, admitting that there was no possible way to ensure a “zero-risk” environment.
So-called “Islamic State” claimed responsibility for the actions of Rezgui, naming him as Abu Yayha Al-Qayrawani in their published literature. Rezgui was not radicalised within Iraq or Syria, but in his university town. This link is made through an analysis of his given name by the group, which includes reference to the town of Kairouan. Kairounan is known to be one of the holiest locations in Sunni Islam, and has been the home of banned organisations with an Islamist ideology. There is speculation that Rezgui may have had affiliation with banned groups whilst living and studying in the city, before his alignment with the so called “Islamic State” militants. Worryingly, Rezgui was not known to Tunisian security intelligence. Authorities confirm that he was not acting alone, and was thought to be part of a five-strong group affiliated to Islamic State militants in neighbouring Libya. Indeed, Islamic State media portraying al Qayrawani as a “soldier of the Caliphate,” saying that he purposely gunned down citizens who belong to the “Crusader coalition.” Many government advisories are warning nationals of the possibility of further attacks in Tunisia. The proximity to Libya, evidence that up to 3,000 Tunisians having left the country to join “Islamic State”, the weak politically democratic environment and deep social divides within the country make it a particular target for the terrorist group. Combined with the knowledge that roughly 15% of Tunisia’s GDP comes from tourism creates an attractive hypothesis to the group; a faltering economy would weaken the state and lead further people towards extremism. This factor rings true to President Ebessi’s statement that Tunisia cannot defeat terrorism itself and needs support in tackling the issue.
Although Tunisian authorities have increased surveillance and security measures in the aftermath of the Bardo attacks, many are now calling for further action. Although this is seen as a necessary route to undertake, the fragility of the democratic situation in the country makes the immediate action of the government crucial. There has been localised concern over the language used by President Essebi who promised “painful but necessary” measures in response to the attacks. To infringe on the democratic principles that Tunisia has established since the 2011 Arab Spring would be seen as a retreat to authoritarianism. This, in itself may lead to increasing divides within society and lead to further violence. Maxwell Lucas will continue to monitor the developments in Tunisia, as the aftermath of the attack continues to unravel.
As aforementioned events unravelled in Tunisia, Kuwait experienced a large terrorist attack at the Shi’ite Imam Sadiq Mosque in Kuwait City. The attack occurred during Friday prayers, killing at least 27 people and injuring up to 227 more. Immediately, a group identified as the Najd Province, affiliated to so called “Islamic State” claimed responsibility for the attack. In Islamic State’s media outlets, the mosque was referred to as a “malicious den” and a “known platform in the war on Tawhid (monotheism) and its people”. The individual responsible for the attack was quickly identified as Saudi national, Fahd Suleiman Abdulmohsen al-Qaba’a. He was thought to have travelled into Kuwait city on Friday morning, just hours before the attack occurred. The incident was the largest terrorist attack in Kuwait since 1983. The targeting of the Shi’ite mosque was similar to that in Qatif, Saudi Arabia. So called “Islamic State” have also been responsible for large scale attacks on Shi’ite targets in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
Authorities in Kuwait have been staunch in their condemnation of the actions, yet many believe that increased security at Shi’ite places of worship should have been implemented before hand. Following the attack, there has been a large deployment of military at all sensitive sites. Gulf Nations are known to be increasingly concerned over the possibility of further attacks on Shi’ite minorities. A sense of lack of state protection from the groups could easily translate to vigilante defence and segregation, with the possibility of violence.
In France, details surrounding the beheading of an individual and a linked explosion were slow in circulation. As the story broke, the media quickly referred to it as a terrorist attack, before describing it as an act of work rivalry, before once more describing the event as an act of terrorism. The individual who was killed was the boss of employee Yassin Salhi, who worked at American owned gas and chemicals factory. Salhi was also arrested for attempting to blow up the compound. He faces trial on terrorism charges due to links with militants in Syria, the presence of a flag that bore the symbol of so called “Islamic State.”
After such dramatic events within such a tight time frame, analysts began to speculate a common link between the attacks. Some suggested that the day marked the “establishment of the Islamic Caliphate” being one year on from the capture of Mosul by so called “Islamic State” militants. Others speculated on the timing in correspondence with the holy month of Ramadan. Indeed, the spiritual leader of the so called “Islamic State”, Abu Muhammad al Adani has been widely quoted in media outlets as urging for increased attacks during the holy month. Attacks on Shi’ites have been strongly encouraged through these speeches. Government agencies have been hesitant to establish if any link between the three incidents can be made. It is unlikely that this will ever provide any concrete evidence, although so called Islamic State propaganda will likely laud the bloody day.
The brutality of the attacks, and the evident targeting of particular groups by the individuals have left many on high alert. However, the speculation over the timing of such events detracts from the main message; that attacks from lone wolf actors that self-affiliate to a larger terrorist umbrella can not be predicted, and consequently there is little that can be done to prevent such action. Indeed, if these events were linked to one another by a centralised operation (which is likely due to the online-links of these self-made “jihadists”) then Hoffman’s assertion of ideological terrorism without borders rings true. This message of an internationalised ideology that can extend across the globe aligns with the core view of an Islamic caliphate adopted by the terrorist organisation. Implementing “jihad” or “holy war” in areas far from territorial control makes this message resonate. Many fear that these forms of attacks may only increase in prevalence as US-led coalitions continue to make gains against the group in Iraq and Syria.