The terror attacks that rocked France, Kuwait and Tunisia on Friday left dozens dead and wounded, and the global community appalled and apprehensive.
With the Islamic State claiming responsibility for the strikes on a Kuwaiti mosque and a Tunisian beach resort and the attacker in Lyon said to have ties to Islamic extremism — after it was discovered that he set off an explosion and mounted the severed head of his employer on a fence surrounded by flags marked with “Islamic writing” — world leaders, particularly in the West, are warning their citizens that like France, they may soon see unimaginable violence perpetuated on their turf.
The United Kingdom, which reported at least 30 Britons among the casualties in Tunisia, stepped up security for its Armed Forces Day celebrations on Saturday. And Dr. Afzal Ashraf, a security expert and a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told The Daily Express that Britain could be targeted as early as today. Ashraf said:
“The timing of the atrocious attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait suggest that these events could have stemmed from the same motivation: to mark the first anniversary of the forming of the caliphate, which will be on Monday. It is very likely I.S. will try to grab the headlines again in the next four or five days with another flurry of activity. This real risk will continue until the end of Ramadan.”
Ashraf’s observations appear to square with the jihadists’ promise, via social media, that they have “lots of surprises” in store for Ramadan. Other governments are taking note.
Tony Abbott, prime minister of Australia, said in an ABC report that Friday’s attacks demonstrate “yet again, [that] as far as the Daesh death cult is concerned, they’re coming after us.”
Unlike the U.K., Australia is not yet considering increased security, but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told ABC that intelligence organizations were evaluating whether to take more stringent measures.
Washington, meanwhile, has let local law enforcement officials across the United States know that there is increased concern that terrorists might target Independence Day celebrations on Saturday, July 4. According to USA Today, there have been no credible threats, but officials are exhorting the public to “be vigilant” during the holiday.
While such heightened awareness and preparation might be a logical response to Friday’s attacks, there are some who see such measures as not only premature but also counterproductive.
Blogger David Wells, writing for The Lowy Interpreter, points out that I.S. has suffered recent reverses of fortune, particularly in Syria, where its attempt to retake the city of Kobane was thwarted last week by Kurdish fighters. There is no evidence, after all, that I.S. had a direct hand in Friday’s attacks, he said, but by claiming responsibility, the extremist group creates an image of control and widening influence. According to Wells:
“Self-declared links to ISIS or ISIS propaganda or social media interactions with low-level ISIS foreign fighters and keyboard warriors do not make these attackers ‘a part of ISIS’ or a plan ‘an ISIS plot,’ Nor are they relevant to discussions concerning the threat posed by returning foreign fighters. That is not to say that such attacks are at odds with the strategic aims of ISIS, but by attributing responsibility, we help to build the ISIS brand and the perception that they are ‘coming after us.’ ”
Wells suggests that while the I.S. would not be above attacking Westerners as a matter of course, the group’s true goal is less the mindless violence displayed in Friday’s attacks and more geared toward the complete destabilization of parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisia, he noted, suffered a second heavy blow to an economy not yet fully recovered from the Bardo Museum attack that left 28 dead three months ago. And the Kuwaiti bombing, he added, was much more representative of the goals and tactics of I.S., namely to cut down predominantly Sunni communities. Subjugating these countries via a campaign of terror and intimidation, Wells writes, would go far toward the I.S. dream of establishing its caliphate throughout those regions.
While it is not outside the realm of possibility that I.S. will expand to other areas or reach out to the alienated and disaffected around the globe to do its dirty work, as detailed in a New York Times feature, Wells posits that the West — in its rush to shore up its defenses — might take their eye off the true targets of the I.S. and, as a result, not only inadvertently assist in perpetuating the “legend of the I.S. bogeyman able to strike anywhere at any time,” but also possibly set in motion a chain of events that will hasten the destruction that the terrorists so ardently seek and, in turn, affect Western governments in ways for which they are truly unprepared.