Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

IS hits Tunisia

An IS-sponsored attack at a tourist resort in Tunisia this week left 38 Western tourists dead and others seriously wounded, reports Kamel Abdallah        

Al-Ahram Weekly

The terrorist attack on a tourist resort in Tunisia on Friday indicates that Western interests in the country are not out of reach of the Islamic State (IS) group, or Daesh in Arabic. Ironically, Tunisia, the former bastion of the Arab Spring, is also the largest source of foreign recruits into IS.

Friday’s attack against a resort hotel in the coastal town of Sousse, which killed 38 people, mostly tourists, and wounded many others, coincided with two other attacks, one against a Shia mosque in Kuwait and another against a factory in France.

These incidents suggest that IS has grown stronger and has developed a longer reach than many had imagined. Its means and tactics may also now exceed the conventional counter-terrorist measures applied in many countries.

According to preliminary reports, the gunman who attacked the tourist hotel in Sousse entered by a rear entrance, opened fire on those inside and on the nearby beach, and was then shot dead as he tried to flee. In the midst of the confusion that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, an official spokesman announced that two hotels had been attacked rather than one.

Even though this was in fact an attack on a single hotel, it was the deadliest terrorist attack in Tunisia’s recent history. However, it was not the first of its kind. On 18 March, tourists and a security officer were killed in an attack carried out by gunmen against the Bardo National Museum in Tunis. Again, IS claimed responsibility.

The Tunisian Interior Ministry said the perpetrator of the Sousse massacre was a Tunisian youth called Seifeddine Rezgui, not previously known to the security forces.

Subsequent reports in the local and international press described Rezgui as an ordinary young man whose friends and acquaintances had not observed any significant changes in him before the attack. This could mean that he had been a “loner” ensnared by IS recruitment operations on social networking sites.

The attack against the Shia mosque in Kuwait took place at around the same time as the attack in Sousse and claimed almost as many dead. The timing of the two attacks was as if IS had wanted to deliver a message telling the international coalition carrying out airstrikes against it in Syria that it knows what it wants and how to defy expectations when delivering its brutal strikes.

However, Friday’s attack in Kuwait also underscored the rising sectarian tensions in the Gulf and points to the IS strategy of inflaming sectarian strife between the Sunnis and Shia as a means of persuading the former to turn to IS and subscribe to its notion of a Sunni Islamic state.

On Sunday, the Saudi Interior Ministry announced that the perpetrator of the suicide bombing in Kuwait had been a Saudi national, Fahad Suleiman Abdel-Mohsen Al-Gabbaa, born in 1992, who had apparently flown out of the country on the day before the attack.

According to the Saudi authorities there was no record of him having travelled abroad before. A Saudi-based affiliate of IS calling itself the Najd Province claimed responsibility for the attack, with IS referring to Al-Gabbaa and Rezgui as “two soldiers of the caliphate” on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites.

IS appears to plan and carry out its attacks carefully and also knows how to identify targets while retaining the flexibility to change them as circumstances require. This was evident in the attack against the Western tourists in Tunisia, where the gunman opened fire against foreigners on the beach and then entered the hotel and killed more people before being killed by the security forces.

In Kuwait, the target was easier as the avenue of attack was via the sectarian strife that IS seeks to foster by exploiting passions aroused among some Sunni youth in the Gulf and Iraq in the face of the “spread of Shiism” in the region. IS blames the Sunnis for being lax in confronting such alleged Shia expansionism. 

What the two incidents have in common is that in both IS relied on new operatives who were previously unknown to the security forces in their respective countries and who had not drawn attention to themselves before their crimes.

This anonymity was particularly evident in the Sousse attack, where the gunman managed to penetrate deep into the target area before opening fire on the tourists. The membership of the two operatives in IS played a major role in the high number of casualties in the two incidents.

The attack against the Hotel Imperial Marhaba near Sousse claimed 38 lives. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, officials confirmed that at least 15 British citizens, three Irish, a Belgian, a Portuguese and a German had been killed.

The toll of British victims is the largest in any terrorist attack since the one carried out by four suicide bombers in London in July 2005, killing 52 people. 

Reports in the British press later said that at least 30 of the dead in the Tunisian attack were from the UK. Flags were lowered to half-mast in London in honour of the victims, and the British authorities have sent at least 16 investigators to Tunisia to help in investigations.

Some 300 police officers are involved in questioning returning tourists who were in the vicinity of the attack.

The British Daily Telegraph newspaper also noted that the investigations in Tunisia were the largest undertaken by British security agencies since the 2005 terrorist attack in London.

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