Islamic extremists left more than 80 people dead in four countries after attacks at a French factory, a Tunisian beach, a mosque in Kuwait and a town in Somalia.
As French police pieced together what happened in the incident at a gas plant near Lyon where one man was decapitated, at least 28 were gunned down in Tunisia. A suicide bomber at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait left 25 worshippers dead, while al-Shabaab militants killed 30 peacekeepers in Somalia.
There’s no suggestion the attacks were coordinated, yet they all bore similar hallmarks. They also come a year after Islamic State officially declared its caliphate in Syria and Iraq and has renewed its push to take more territory. The deaths underscore the difficulty security services face in tackling what’s become a franchise as the extremist group lured thousands of fighters from the Middle East and Europe.
“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. Dealing with what’s happening requires going back to the root causes, which means tackling the ideology,” Nuseibeh said.
In Tunisia, gunmen opened fire on a beach in the Mediterranean tourist town of Sousse. Among the victims were Germans, Belgians and British visitors, the state news agency reported. The attack followed the murder of a group of foreign tourists at a museum in the north African country in March.
In Kuwait, a bomb ripped through a Shiite mosque during Friday prayers, echoing recent incidents in Saudi Arabia.
One person was decapitated and two others were injured in an attack on a gas plant near Lyon in southeastern France. The attackers beheaded a man and posted the severed head at the factory’s entrance with an inscription in Arabic pinned to it before driving at high speed into gas cannisters.
The bombing in Kuwait was claimed by Islamic State, according to regional television channel Arabiya. In addition to the death toll, the Interior Ministry also said more than 200 people were injured. Al-Shabaab said it carried out the assault in Somalia. There was no statement of responsibility for the attacks in Tunisia and France.
The violence shows the spread of extremism a year after Islamic State declared a caliphate in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria on June 29 last year. A number of radical Sunni groups from Egypt to Tunisia and Yemen have pledged allegiance to the organization.
“What the attacks reveal are different tactics on part of groups that all claim adherence to the same organization,” said Crispin Hawes, Director of Middle East and North Africa practice at Teneo consultancy in London. Attacks on the same day “demonstrate the malleability of the message.”
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said the British government’s emergency committee will meet Friday in the wake of the attacks.
“This a threat that affects all of us,” he told reporters in Brussels following a European Union summit. “It can happen anywhere. We all face this threat. We’ve got to do all we can to help. We have to deal, perhaps more important than anything, with this poisonous, radical narrative.”
Efforts to crush the movement have so far focused on U.S.- led airstrikes against its military and financial assets in Syria and Iraq as well as attempts to block the flow of fighters to territory it controls.
U.S. officials say there is no clear evidence that the attacks were coordinated. One official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the attacks may indicate that Islamic State has succeeded in using online and other messages to train or inspire Muslims outside its territory to attack the group’s enemies.
The official cited an audio message this week from the group’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, urging Muslims to wage holy war during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started earlier in June.
Over the past year, Sunni militants have attacked foreign nationals and Shiite Muslims in countries including Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
The blast in Kuwait follows a series of bomb attacks on Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia that have been claimed by Islamic State. The kingdom is part of the U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic State targets in Syria. Kuwait had stepped up security since the Saudi attacks. Islamic State considers Shiites to be heretics.
A survivor of the Kuwait attack, the first in the emirate in at least a decade, said a bomber had detonated his explosives after shouting “Allahu Akbar,” the Arabic phrase meaning “God is Great.”
Fully veiled women could be heard weeping outside the mosque, where shattered glass covered the entrance. Shiites gathered outside called on the government to stand with them and shouted that it was time to wage war against “extremism” in the country.