Islamic extremists left more than 80 people dead in four countries on Friday after attacks on targets including a French factory, a Tunisian beach and a mosque in Kuwait.
Intelligence services are investigating whether there’s any link between the incidents, which follow calls by Islamic State for a wave of violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The jihadist group claimed responsibility for two of Friday’s attacks: the bombing at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait that killed at least 27 worshipers and injured more than 200 and the shooting on a Tunisian beach that killed at least 38 people. Islamic State is preparing to mark the first anniversary on Monday of its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Islamic State used Twitter to identify the gunman in the Mediterranean resort town of Sousse as Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani. He was shot dead by security forces, according to the Tunisian state news agency. Most of the victims were British, Al-Jazeera cited Prime Minister Habibi Essid as saying.
In southeast France, one person died and two others were injured in an attack on a gas plant near Lyon. The attackers beheaded a man and posted his severed head at the factory’s entrance with an inscription in Arabic pinned to it before driving at high speed into gas cannisters.
“You should expect more of these attacks unfortunately,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, which advises clients on risk in the Middle East.
Most of the attacks over the past year “have been carried out by lone individuals or small groups and that’s the difficulty here,” Nuseibeh said. “Dealing with what’s happening requires going back to the root causes, which means tackling the ideology.”
All of Friday’s attacks carry echoes of earlier ones. While Kuwait hadn’t itself been targeted for years, neighboring Saudi Arabia has seen a series of strikes against Shiite worshipers by Sunni Muslim jihadists. Several people were killed at the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo in January.
In Tunisia, violence including the murder of foreign tourists at a museum in March has threatened to overshadow the most successful transition to democracy among the Arab Spring countries. Last year’s elections saw power handed peacefully from a moderate Islamist group to a mostly secular coalition under President Beji Caid Essebsi, who said on Friday that Tunisia can’t face the jihadist threat alone, and called for a “global strategy.”
The U.S. is leading a coalition of European and Arab countries fighting against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, though the effort hasn’t prevented the group from expanding there or drawing support abroad.
In recent weeks it has captured the provincial capital of Ramadi in Iraq and the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. Groups with separate origins in countries such as Nigeria, Egypt and Libya have declared their allegiance to Islamic State, and thousands have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join its army.
U.S. officials said there is no clear evidence that the attacks on Friday were coordinated. An Islamic State spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, had urged Muslims to wage holy war during Ramadan, which started the previous week.
“What the attacks reveal are different tactics on part of groups that all claim adherence to the same organization,” said Crispin Hawes, director for the Middle East and North Africa at research company Teneo in London.
‘All of Us’
Also on Friday, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, which has ties with Al-Qaeda rather than Islamic State, said it killed at least 30 soldiers in an attack on a base of the African Union force that’s battling the jihadist group. The AU mission confirmed the attack without citing a death toll, which some reports put at more than 50.
The multiple attacks were condemned by the U.S., the European Union and leaders including the U.K.’s David Cameron, who said the extremist threat “affects all of us.”
Outside the mosque in Kuwait, shattered glass covered the entrance and veiled women could be heard weeping while Shiite worshipers called on the government to wage war against “extremism.”