Monday 29 June 2015

Deadly attacks across 3 continents

Strikes in Tunisia, France, Kuwait; ISIS claims responsibility for Kuwait hit
The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2015

BEIRUT - Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait yesterday, leaving a bloody toll on three continents, prompting fresh concerns about spreading extremist influences.

The deadliest attack was in Tunisia, where gunmen opened fire at a beach in the Mediterranean tourist town of Sousse, killing at least 27 people. Security forces killed at least one attacker.

In Kuwait, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for a bomb that ripped through a Shi'ite mosque during Friday prayers, leaving 25 dead.

In France, attackers stormed a US-owned industrial chemical plant near Lyon, decapitated one person and tried unsuccessfully to blow up the factory, in what the French authorities said was a terrorist attack.

There was no statement of responsibility for the attacks in Tunisia and France.

British holidaymakers caught up in the attack in Tunisia said tourists ran from the beach when they realised they were under gunfire. "Over to our left, about 100m or so away, we saw what we thought were firecrackers going off," Mr Gary Pine, from Bristol, told Britain's Sky News by telephone. "But you could see quite quickly the panic that was starting to ensue from the next resort along from us."

French President Francois Hollande cut short a European Union summit to chair emergency meetings in Paris following the grisly attack in his country. "The intent was, without doubt, to cause an explosion. It was a terrorist attack," he said, noting that a vehicle driven at high speed by "one person, maybe accompanied by another" smashed into the factory, about 40km from Lyon.

"At the time I am speaking, there is one dead and two injured," said a grim-faced Mr Hollande, calling for "solidarity" for the victim, who was found with Arabic inscriptions on him.

The bloody discovery of the decapitated head pinned to the gate of the factory is thought to be the first instance in France of a beheading during an attack, which has become a trademark of ISIS.

The gruesome killing came nearly six months after the attacks in and around Paris which started with a shooting at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 17 people dead.

The shooting in Tunisia came just months after an attack on a museum in the capital Tunis killed 21 foreign tourists and a policeman in March.

Mr Hollande and his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi expressed their solidarity against the "scourge" of terrorism.

There was no immediate indication that the attacks were coordinated. But the three strikes on three continents came at roughly the same time, and mere days after ISIS called for such operations during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

While the authorities in each country were investigating, the timing of the attacks raised the possibility that militants from ISIS were increasingly inspiring sympathisers to plan and carry out attacks in their own countries.

"Muslims, embark and hasten towards jihad," said ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani in an audio message released this week. "Oh mujahideen everywhere, rush and go to make Ramadan a month of disasters for the infidels."

US intelligence and counter- terrorism officials were scrambling yesterday to assess the connections, if any, between the attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia.

Among EU leaders gathered for the Brussels summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attacks "show the challenges we face when it comes to fighting terrorism and Islamist extremism".

British Prime Minister David Cameron called a meeting of a government emergency committee to discuss the attacks. "Our hearts all go out to the victims of these appalling terrorist attacks," Mr Cameron said, branding them the fruit of "perverted ideology".

The wave of violence underscores the spread of extremism a year after ISIS declared a caliphate in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria on June 29 last year.

The Al-Qaeda breakaway group has lured thousands of fighters from the Middle East and Europe. A number of radical Sunni groups from Egypt to Tunisia to Yemen have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

"You should expect more of these attacks unfortunately," said Mr 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", he said.


Britain prepares for worst terror death toll in decade
Most of victims of shooting at Tunisian beach resort are said to be British
The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

London - As Britain braces itself for the worst death toll in a terror incident in nearly a decade, intelligence services are scrambling to assess if Friday's bloody attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France are linked.

These followed calls by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group for a wave of violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the shooting at a Tunisian beach resort and the suicide bombing at a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait.

While Tunisian authorities have identified at least eight Britons among the 38 killed by the gunman, said to be a 23-year-old Tunisian student, most of the dead are believed to be British.

The attack made the front page of all British newspapers yesterday, with headlines such as "Slaughter on the beach" accompanying stark photographs of bodies lying in the sand covered by beach towels.

Many papers published the story of 30-year-old Matthew James, who miraculously survived despite being shot three times as he protected his fiancee.

The shooting is the deadliest terror attack for Britain since 52 people were killed in the July 7, 2005 London bombings.

As the grim process of identifying the bodies continued, travel firms have begun repatriating thousands of British tourists from beach resorts around the attack site near Sousse, about 140km south of Tunis. There are about 20,000 British tourists on package holidays in Tunisia, according to ABTA, the country's largest travel association.

The mass shooting is the deadliest in Tunisia's recent history and comes after an ISIS attack in March on the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 21 foreign tourists.

The attack is certain to deal a further blow to Tunisia's tourism sector, a pillar of the local economy.

Kuwait's Interior Ministry said yesterday it had detained among others the owner of a vehicle that the suicide bomber had used to get to the Shi'ite mosque where he blew himself up, killing 27 and wounding 200 people mid-prayer.

The suicide bombing followed the pattern of similar attacks on Shi'ite mosques in Saudi Arabia and appeared aimed at sowing sectarian discord in a country where Sunnis and Shi'ites serve together in top government bodies and open friction between them is uncommon.

Meanwhile, French police interrogated a 35-year-old delivery man of North African origin over an attack involving the beheading of his boss and an attempt to blow up a chemicals plant, in the second attack by Muslim extremists to hit France in six months.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that France faced more attacks and that Friday's assault on a gas factory near Lyon would raise tensions in the country and put citizens' resilience "to the test".

Though the motivation behind the attack was less clear, the beheading suggested that the perpetrator had at least been inspired by similar executions by ISIS militants.

In a televised statement from Downing Street, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "These savage terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France are a brutal and tragic reminder of the threat faced around the world from these evil terrorists." Britain's terrorism threat level is currently at severe, the second highest of five.

Yesterday, Singapore joined other countries in strongly condemning "the acts of violence and the loss of innocent lives".

"We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims on their tragic loss," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "These brutal acts of terror are another reminder that we need to remain vigilant and work closely with our international partners to combat terrorism and counter violent extremism," it added.

AFP, New York Times, Bloomberg

Gunman targeted foreign tourists
Student pursued victims from beach to hotel; was radicalised recently, say sources
The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

Sousse (Tunisia) - Casually dressed in dark shorts, a necklace and T-shirt, he would have looked like any other young Tunisian among the German, British and Irish sunbathers soaking up the Mediterranean heat on one of Tunisia's long, yellow beaches.

In just five minutes, armed with the black Kalashnikov he had hidden in his beach umbrella, Saif Rezgui unleashed horror across the Imperial Marhaba resort, leaving 38 victims dead among the deck chairs and pool loungers.

It was the worst attack of its kind in Tunisia's modern history. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility though the authorities say Rezgui, a 23-year-old student, was not on any terrorism watchlist or a known militant.

Witnesses say the gunman, dressed like a tourist, drew little attention. He opened fire suddenly, making his way from the beach to the pool and hotel, selecting foreigners, pursuing his victims even as they fled indoors.

Rezgui was apparently well aware of the hotel's layout, a security source said. He had time to reload his rifle at least twice before he was finally confronted and shot dead by police outside the hotel.

Panicked tourists fled from the beach, running among the umbrellas, some falling among the white plastic sun loungers, their bodies later to be covered with towels and sheets. Blood was smeared over the steps leading into the hotel.

Some said it took the police and security officers at least 30 minutes to respond after the shooting started.

"I can't understand why they didn't arrive earlier," said Mr Khmais Bouzayane, 45, a long-time employee of the hotel. "I lived in an unimaginable terror. I hid near the pool, in the engine room below the ground."

Hours after the assault, he said, police officials were still combing through the hotel grounds and medical crews were "still picking bodies from the sea - the sea has the biggest number of bodies".

A popular tourism destination, Tunisia has emerged from political upheaval after its 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Praised for its transition to democracy, the country is also struggling with rising Islamist militancy.

Tunisian authorities were already on the alert, months after two gunmen killed 21 foreign tourists at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, gunning down Japanese, French and Spanish visitors as they arrived by bus.

Like the Bardo attackers, the young Tunisian gunman appears to have fallen prey to extremist recruiters, radicalised and drawn away from his life as a student in a very short time, security sources said.

By official accounts, Rezgui was a dedicated student from a stable family who enjoyed partying and practised break-dancing. In a pattern similar to other Tunisia militants, he appeared to have come into contact with extremist preachers about six months ago, a senior security source said.

"He was a good student and always attending class," Prime Minister Habib Essid said. "Our investigations show he didn't reveal any signs of extremism, or ties to terrorists. He wasn't even on a watchlist."

Packed with European holidaymakers, the resort would have been a desired target for militant groups who have attacked North African tourist sites before, seeing them as legitimate targets because of their open Western lifestyles and tolerance of alcohol.

"I was on the beach when he started shooting. We got everyone back towards the hotel, but he followed us. He targeted the foreigners but not the Tunisians," said a waiter named Wadia.

"When he saw a Tunisian, he shouted out 'get out of the way' and shot at foreigners."

Reuters, New York Times

No signs suspect had an accomplice
The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

Paris - The French authorities yesterday questioned a 35-year-old delivery man of North African origin over a suspected terrorist attack involving the beheading of his boss and an attempt to blow up a United States-owned chemicals plant in south-eastern France.

President Francois Hollande, dealing with new security fears less than six months after 17 people were killed by terrorist gunmen at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in a southern Paris suburb and at a Jewish foodstore in Paris, said the incident amounted to a terrorist attack.

Yassin Sahli is suspected of having rammed his delivery van into a warehouse of gas containers, triggering an initial explosion.

He was arrested minutes later while opening canisters containing flammable chemicals, prosecutors said last Friday. Police later found the head of the 54-year-old manager of the transport firm that employed the suspect, dangling from a fence at the site, framed by flags with written references to Islam.

Sahli was being held in Lyon, where he refused to respond to interrogators yesterday, according to a source. His wife, sister and another man are also in detention.

The second man is being investigated on terrorism-related charges but his link to the attack is not clear. Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins said there was no indication that Sahli had an accomplice.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said last Friday the father of three had been investigated for links to radical Salafists, fundamentalists who follow a strict interpretation of Islamic law, in Lyon. However, Sahli was not identified as having participated in terrorist activities and had no criminal record. Speaking after a meeting yesterday with Mr Hollande, Mr Cazeneuve vowed the government would "continue to work relentlessly" against terrorism.

While an anti-terrorist inquiry has been launched, Mr Molins said it would be premature to make any conclusions at this stage and investigators had yet to fully understand what happened at the industrial zone in Saint Quentin-Fallavier, 30km south of Lyon.

"Questions remain over the exact chronology of events, what happened when he arrived, the circumstances of the decapitation, the motivation and whether there were accomplices," Mr Molins said.

No terrorist group has claimed the French attack which came on the same day as a massacre at a Tunisian beach resort in which 38 people were gunned down, and a suicide bombing in Kuwait that killed 27. The other two attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

However, the French authorities said there was no established connection between the attacks and no indication that the site had been targeted because of its US owner, industrial gases and chemicals group Air Products.

While Sahli's Islamist connections were known to the authorities, neighbours at his family home in a quiet Lyon suburb expressed disbelief.

"They are a very normal family," a 46-year-old housewife said. "I only talked with madame. He didn't say hello or goodbye," she added.

A co-worker described Sahli as "a wolf in sheep's clothing" to RTL radio, adding that Sahli had spoken to him about ISIS - "not to try recruit me for anything but simply to ask my opinion".

Reuters, AFP

Owner of vehicle used by bomber detained
The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

Kuwait - Kuwait's interior ministry said yesterday it had detained among others the owner of a vehicle which a suicide bomber used to get to a Shi'ite Muslim mosque, where he blew himself up, killing 27 and wounding at least 200 people during a prayer session.

Thousands of Sunnis and Shi'ites yesterday took part in a mass funeral procession for the victims at Kuwait's Grand Mosque, with some chanting "Sunnis and Shi'ites are brothers", the Associated Press reported.

Militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the country's worst militant attack last Friday, one of three attacks on three continents that day apparently linked to hardline Islamists.

In Tunisia, a gunman killed 38 people, including Western tourists on a beach, and in France, a decapitated body was found after an attacker rammed his car into a gas container, triggering an explosion.

The interior ministry said it was now looking for the driver who vanished shortly after last Friday's blast in Kuwait, which has been spared the rampant violence in neighbouring Iraq and the recent spate of ISIS bombings of Shi'ite mosques in Saudi Arabia, another neighbour.

A security source said "numerous arrests" had been made in connection with last Friday's bombing, which government officials said was intended to stir enmity between Kuwait's Sunni majority and Shi'ite minority.

Two Iranian nationals were among those killed, foreign ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham was quoted as saying by Iranian state media yesterday.

Relatives of seven of those killed wept and prayed over shrouded corpses at a mosque yesterday. The bodies will be buried in the Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq.

Shi'ites make up between 15 and 30 per cent of the population of Kuwait, a mostly Sunni country where members of both communities live side by side with little apparent friction.

"We will cut the evil hand that interferes with our homeland's security," Interior Minister Mohammed al Khaled al Sabah was quoted as saying by Kuna news agency.

Kuwait has stepped up security to the highest level at state-run oil conglomerate Kuwait Petroleum Corp and its affiliates, Kuna reported.

ISIS named the bomber as Abu Suleiman al-Muwahed and said on social media that he had targeted a "temple of the apostates" - a term the group uses to refer to Shi'ites, whom it regards as heretics.

ISIS had urged its followers last Tuesday to step up attacks during the Ramadan fasting month against Christians, Shi'ites and Sunni Muslims fighting with a US-led coalition against the ultra-hardline militant group.


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