Dozens dead in at­tacks on 3 con­ti­nents

A Kuwaiti mosque, French gas plant and Tu­nisian re­sort are hit.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Henry Chu and Laura King

CAIRO — Armed mil­i­tants struck within hours of one another on three con­ti­nents Fri­day, wield­ing bombs, firearms and a grue­some dis­play of a de­cap­i­tated head in a demon­stra­tion of the grow­ing global reach of Is­lamist vi­o­lence.

The mil­i­tant group Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the sui­cide bomb­ing of a Shi­ite mosque in Kuwait and an at­tack on a sea­side re­sort in Tu­nisia, and it may have at least inspired an at­tack on a gas fac­tory in France. The ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, now con­trol­ling large parts of Iraq and Syria, has sought to ex­pand its inf lu­ence well be­yond the Mid­dle East.

As many as 60 peo­ple were killed in the at­tacks, more than half of them by a gun­man who went on a rampage out­side a ho­tel pop­u­lar with for­eign tourists on the sunny Tu­nisian coast. As many as two dozen peo­ple died in the bomb­ing of the mosque, and one man was be­headed in France. The vi­o­lence marred the holy month of Ramadan, which be­gan last week.

An Is­lamic State leader this week had called on acolytes to use Ramadan, tra­di­tion­ally a time of spir­i­tual ref lec­tion and acts of kind­ness, as an op­por­tu­nity in­stead to bring “calamity for the in­fi­dels.”

“Be keen to con­quer in this holy month and to be-

come ex­posed to mar­tyr­dom,” Abu Mo­ham­mad Ad­nani, a spokesman for the Sunni Mus­lim mil­i­tant group, said in an au­dio mes­sage re­leased Tues­day. He urged fol­low­ers to mount at­tacks in Libya, Syria and Iraq against Western­ers, Shi­ite Mus­lims and any Sun­nis who op­posed Is­lamic State.

He also warned Pres­i­dent Obama of re­tal­i­a­tion for the air raids that U. S. forces have helped carry out against the mil­i­tants in Iraq and Syria.

The nearly half- hour au­dio mes­sage was a fresh ex­am­ple of Is­lamic State’s so­phis­ti­ca­tion in dis­sem­i­nat­ing its ex­treme world­view through online and so­cial media, tools that al­low the group to pro­ject its gospel of vi­o­lence far out­side the ter­ri­tory it rules with an iron fist.

Is­lamic State “has def­i­nitely proved it­self a lot more ca­pa­ble than ma­jor groups in the past at spread­ing that pro­pa­ganda, whether it be blog­ging ” or other online means, said Alan Fraser, a Mid­dle East ex­pert at the Lon­don- based risk con­sul­tancy AKE. “And part of the bru­tal­ity of Is­lamic State’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Iraq and Syria [ is] de­signed to get that kind of media at­ten­tion.

“That’s one of its tac­tics. It’s very hard to com­bat.”

Sav­agery akin to that seen in the group’s slickly, and sickly, pro­duced videos of mass ex­e­cu­tions and be­head­ings was ev­i­dent in the at­tacks Fri­day, which struck places of work, wor­ship and re­lax­ation in Europe, Asia and Africa, re­spec­tively.

The sev­ered head of a pre­vi­ously killed man was hung from a fence near the U. S.- owned gas fac­tory in south­east­ern France that at­tack­ers tried to blow up by ram­ming a car into the plant about 9: 30 a. m. Fri­day. Flags with Ara­bic in­scrip­tions lay close by, French media re­ported.

French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande said a mes­sage had been writ­ten on the de­cap­i­tated body. He added that there was no doubt it was a ter­ror­ist at­tack, and French anti- ter­ror­ism pros­e­cu­tors have opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Two other peo­ple were in­jured in the ex­plo­sion at the Air Prod­ucts fac­tory in the small town of Saint- Quentin- Fallavier, out­side Lyon, Hol­lande said.

A sus­pect was quickly ar­rested af­ter the in­ci­dent and, though pros­e­cu­tors said he re­fused to talk, was iden­ti­fied as 35- year- old de­liv­ery truck driver Yassin Sahli, who was known to work­ers at the plant. In­te­rior Min­is­ter Bernard Cazeneuve said that French in­tel­li­gence ser­vices in 2006 had des­ig­nated Sahli as a po­ten­tial ex­trem­ist but stopped mon­i­tor­ing him two years later for undis­closed rea­sons.

Be­fore be­ing de­tained for ques­tion­ing, a woman who said she was Sahli’s wife told Europe 1 ra­dio that they had been mar­ried for a decade and that they and their three chil­dren were “nor­mal Mus­lims” who led “a nor­mal fam­ily life.”

“I don’t know what’s go­ing on. It’s not pos­si­ble,” she said in an in­creas­ingly dis­traught voice, de­scrib­ing her hus­band as “very, very calm.”

French media re­ported that the be­headed man was Sahli’s em­ployer, the boss of a lo­cal trans­port com­pany.

The grue­some vi­o­lence in France came less than six months af­ter the Jan. 7 rampage in Paris at the head­quar­ters of Char­lie Hebdo, the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine tar­geted be­cause of its car­toons of the prophet Muham­mad, and two days later at a Jewish su­per­mar­ket. Twenty peo­ple were killed, in­clud­ing the three at­tack­ers.

France has been on alert for fur­ther at­tacks. In April, an Al­ge­rian na­tional linked by author­i­ties to Al Qaeda and Is­lamic State was ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of plot­ting a gun at­tack on churches in Paris.

Se­cu­rity was stepped up at other sites in the re­gion where Fri­day’s as­sault oc­curred, for fear that the in­ci­dent might ei­ther serve as a pre­lude to a larger at­tack else­where or as in­spi­ra­tion for copy­cats.

In Tu­nisia, a gun­man dis­guised as a bather killed at least 37 peo­ple with a Kalash­nikov rif le that he hid un­der a beach um­brella and used to strafe the pool and shore area of a ho­tel in Sousse, a pop­u­lar va­ca­tion spot about 90 miles south of the cap­i­tal, Tu­nis.

Ter­ri­fied swim­mers dashed out of the surf to find cover. Sun­bathers were shot dead in their lounge chairs on the pri­vate beach fronting the Ho­tel Riu Im­pe­rial Marhaba.

Many of the dead were Euro­pean trav­el­ers, ac­cord­ing to Tu­nisian of­fi­cials. Bri­tain con­firmed that at least f ive Bri­tish na­tion­als were killed.

Va­ca­tioner Steve John­son told the BBC that he and oth­ers bar­ri­caded them­selves in the ho­tel spa un­til they were told it was safe to come out.

“We heard what we thought was f ire­works,” he said. “Then peo­ple were scream­ing and start­ing to run in all di­rec­tions.”

An of­fi­cial from the Tu­nisian In­te­rior Min­istry told Tu­nisian ra­dio that the gun­man was killed by se­cu­rity forces. The of­fi­cial iden­ti­fied the at­tacker as a stu­dent from Kairouan, about 30 miles in­land from Sousse.

It was the sec­ond ma­jor strike in three months on the cru­cial tourist in­dus­try in the North African na­tion, which had been one of the few bright spots to emerge from the Arab Spring up­ris­ings that tried to bring more democ­racy to the re­gion. In March, at­tack­ers shot dead 21 visi­tors, most of them Eu- ro­pean cruise pas­sen­gers, at the Bardo Na­tional Mu­seum in Tu­nis.

Mil­i­tants declar­ing al­le­giance to Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for that as­sault.

Fri­day’s rampage was praised on a fo­rum as­so­ci­ated with Is­lamic State. A Tu­nisian call­ing him­self Abou Anas said glee­fully on Twit­ter: “Didn’t we tell you that this is a month of con­quests, a hard blow to tourism.”

He char­ac­ter­ized the dead as “apos­tate cru­saders” and added: “Ha­ha­haha.”

In the only one of Fri­day’s three at­tacks that Is­lamic State said it di­rectly in­sti­gated, a sui­cide bomber blew him­self up in­side a Shi­ite mosque in Kuwait City. The Per­sian Gulf na­tion has wit­nessed a re­cent rise in sec­tar­ian ten­sions be­tween Sunni and Shi­ite Mus­lims.

Video footage showed dazed, white- clad wor­shipers milling about in the smoke from the deadly blast.

De­spite the close tim­ing of the at­tacks in France, Tu­nisia and Kuwait, a Pen­tagon spokesman said it was “too soon to tell” whether they were “co­or­di­nated cen­trally or co­in­ci­den­tal.”

“We con­tinue to look into it,” U. S. Army Col. Steve War­ren said. “We’re col­lect­ing in­tel­li­gence as rapidly as pos­si­ble.”

Af­ter the three at­tacks, mes­sages of sol­i­dar­ity and con­do­lence poured in from around the world to the af­fected coun­tries.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron said: “The peo­ple who do these things, they some­times claim they do it in the name of Is­lam. They don’t. Is­lam is a re­li­gion of peace.

“They do it in the name of a twisted and per­verted ide­ol­ogy that we have to con­front with ev­ery­thing that we have.” henry. chu@ latimes. com laura. king@ latimes. com Chu re­ported from Lon­don and King from Cairo. Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents Christina Boyle in Lon­don, Kim Will­sher in Saint- Quentin- Fallavier, Nabih Bu­los in Amman, Jor­dan, Amro Has­san in Ber­lin and Times staff writer W. J. Hen­ni­gan in Washington con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

TU­NISIAN SE­CU­RITY forces es­cort a man in Sousse, where a gun­man killed at least 37 peo­ple at a ho­tel’s pri­vate beach us­ing a rif le he hid un­der an um­brella.

Raed Qutena Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

I N KUWAIT CITY, some of the dead lie in a Shi­ite mosque af­ter a sui­cide bomb­ing. Is­lamic State, which had called for at­tacks dur­ing Ramadan, claimed the bomb­ing that killed as many as two dozen peo­ple.

Philippe Desmazes AFP/ Getty I mages

FRENCH PO­LICE se­cure a gas plant where a blast oc­curred. A sev­ered head was dis­played nearby.

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