Ten­ta­cles ex­tend for Is­lamic State

Slew of at­tacks hints at abil­ity to in­spire and lead


The at­tacks ap­peared to have no con­nec­tion in terms of tac­tic or tar­get.

The be­head­ing and failed at­tempt to blow up a chem­i­cal plant in France bore no op­er­a­tional re­sem­blance to the sui­cide bomb­ing of a mosque in Kuwait or the armed as­sault on a tourist-packed beach in Tu­nisia.

Even so, the out­break of vi­o­lence Fri­day was seen by coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cials and ex­perts as part of an emerg­ing pat­tern — each inspired by, if not di­rectly at­trib­ut­able to, the Is­lamic State, all some­how fit­ting into that ter­ror­ist group’s chaotic and vi­o­lent agenda.

U.S. of­fi­cials and ex­perts said the nearly si­mul­ta­ne­ous erup­tions of vi­o­lence on three con­ti­nents are likely to in­ten­sify anx­i­eties about the Is­lamic State’s ex­pand­ing reach.

The group is still seen as pri­mar­ily fo­cused on its re­gional am­bi­tions in Iraq and Syria, where the Is­lamic State has main­tained its grip on large tracts of ter­ri­tory de­spite re­cent mil­i­tary set­backs. U.S. of­fi­cials have said that the or­ga­ni­za­tion seems far less driven to launch elab­o­rate, over­seas ter­ror­ist plots than al-Qaeda and its af­fil­i­ates.

But the Is­lamic State is also in­creas­ingly seen as the cen­ter of an ex­pand­ing move­ment whose dis­parate el­e­ments range from the ranks of stray fol­low­ers drawn by the group’s brand of ex­treme bru­tal­ity to for­mal fran­chises in Libya

and other coun­tries where se­cu­rity has de­te­ri­o­rated.

“It’s be­come more dif­fuse ge­o­graph­i­cally and dis­persed ide­o­log­i­cally,” said Bruce Hoff­man, a ter­ror­ism ex­pert at Georgetown Univer­sity. In some ways, Hoff­man said, the amor­phous na­ture of that net­work may make it more dif­fi­cult to con­tain than al-Qaeda, which has of­ten ex­erted an al­most cor­po­rate-style con­trol of re­gional fran­chises and ter­ror­ist plots.

U.S. of­fi­cials said Fri­day that it was too early to de­ter­mine whether the at­tacks were co­or­di­nated by the Is­lamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“While we’re still work­ing to de­ter­mine whether the at­tacks were co­or­di­nated or di­rected by ISIL, they bear the hall­marks that have de­fined ISIL’s vi­o­lent ide­ol­ogy,” a U.S. of­fi­cial said.

The sus­pect in France re­port­edly told author­i­ties of his ties to the Is­lamic State, and a de­cap­i­tated corpse has be­come one of the group’s grisly sig­na­tures.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack in Tu­nisia, where at least 39 peo­ple were killed. The mosque bomb­ing in Kuwait was quickly claimed by an Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate.

U.S. of­fi­cials and coun­tert­er­ror­ism ex­perts noted that all three in­ci­dents took place just days af­ter a spokesman for the Is­lamic State urged fol­low­ers to launch at­tacks dur­ing the month-long Mus­lim hol­i­day Ramadan, and that the ter­ror­ist group may be seek­ing to mark the an­niver­sary of its dec­la­ra­tion of a caliphate in Iraqand Syria.

“With the three at­tacks, you ba­si­cally have three dif­fer­ent agen­das at work at the same time,” said Will McCants, an ex­pert on mil­i­tant Is­lamism at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “But what’s hold­ing them to­gether are peo­ple who are fa­vor­ably dis­posed to the broader agenda of the Is­lamic State.”

A North African in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial said the ge­o­graph­i­cally dis­persed vi­o­lence is also a sig­nal to al-Qaeda, its ri­val for in­flu­ence among ji­hadists. “The mes­sage is: We can reach any­where,” the of­fi­cial said.

Given the vol­ume of fight­ers flow­ing into and out of Syria, as well as the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Is­lamic State pro­pa­ganda online, “treat­ing this as a counter-rad­i­cal­iza­tion prob­lem on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis is . . . just go­ing to ex­haust us,” Hoff­man said. “Un­til the or­ga­ni­za­tion is weak­ened, I don’t think its ap­peal will be di­min­ished.”

The Is­lamic State has since its in­cep­tion threat­ened to hit Western tar­gets, but its most re­cent in­cite­ments have been more di­rect and ur­gent. The group’s prin­ci­pal spokesman, Abu Mo­hammed alAd­nani, re­leased a recorded state­ment this past week call­ing for at­tacks by fol­low­ers be­yond Syria dur­ing the Is­lamic holy month.

“You all must rush to it and be keen on wag­ing in­va­sion in this em­i­nent month, and com­mit mar­tyr­dom in it,” the mes­sage said, ac­cord­ing to a trans­la­tion by the SITE In­tel­li­gence Group, which mon­i­tors Is­lamist post­ings online.

The group as­serted re­spon­si­bil­ity in May for a thwarted at­tack in Gar­land, Tex., on an event where car­toon­ists were draw­ing the prophet-Muham­mad.

The tar­gets of Fri­day’s at­tacks re­flect the broad range of the Is­lamic State’s goals.

Tu­nisia has been a par­tic­u­lar fo­cal point for the group, in part be­cause the coun­try has made more progress to­ward demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal over­hauls than other na­tions in the Mid­dle East and North Africa swept up in the Arab Spring. Tu­nisia has also seen more than 3,000 of its cit­i­zens travel to Syria to fight in that coun­try’s civil war, many of them join­ing the ranks of the Is­lamic State.

Tu­nisia’s demo­cratic over­hauls are “bad news for ex­trem­ists, and there­fore I think it is no ac­ci­dent that Tu­nisia would be a spe­cial fo­cus,” said Paul Pil­lar, for­mer deputy di­rec­tor of the CIA’s Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter.

The Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for an as­sault in March on a prom­i­nent mu­seum in Tu­nis where more than 20 peo­ple, many of them Western tourists, were killed.

The at­tack on the Amer­i­canowned chem­i­cal plant in France would fit the Is­lamic State’s aim of strik­ing Western tar­gets in re­tal­i­a­tion for airstrikes by the United States and its al­lies, as well as sow­ing anx­i­ety and pre­oc­cu­py­ing Euro­pean se­cu­rity ser­vices.

The sui­cide bomb­ing in Kuwait ap­peared to be part of a broader cam­paign by the Is­lamic State to ig­nite sec­tar­ian con­flict with fol­low­ers of the ri­val sect of Shi­ite Is­lam. The at­tack looked to have been car­ried out by an Is­lami c State af­fil­i­ate known as the Najd Province, agroup that has sought to es­tab­lish a strong­hold on the Ara­bian Penin­sula where al-Qaeda’s most po­tent fran­chise is based.

Is­lamic State fight­ers cel­e­brated the at­tacks in so­cial media boasts on Fri­day. One post­ing on Twit­ter was ad­dressed to “Chris­tians plan­ning their sum­mer va­ca­tions in Tu­nisia,” and said, “we can’t ac­cept u in our land while your jets keep killing our Mus­lim broth­ers.”

But even as U.S. in­tel­li­gence an­a­lysts sought to as­sess the Is­lamic State’s role in the three at­tacks, the group’s car­nage in Syria and Iraq con­tin­ued. Re­ports from Kobane, Syria, in­di­cated that the Is­lamic State had killed at least 146 civil­ians, more than dou­ble the death toll in Kuwait, France and Tu­nisia. Souad Mekhen­net in Lon­don and Julie Tate in Washington con­trib­uted to this re­port.


A woman grieves as she lay flow­ers on the beach Satur­day near the Im­pe­rial Marhaba ho­tel in Sousse, Tu­nisia, where at least 39 peo­ple were killed Fri­day. U.S. of­fi­cials said it was too early to de­ter­mine whether the shoot­ings were part of a co­or­di­nated ef­fort by the Is­lamic State in­volv­ing at­tacks in France and Kuwait.

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