Published daily by the Lowy Institute

France, Tunisia, Kuwait: Three observations about the attacks

France, Tunisia, Kuwait: Three observations about the attacks
Published 29 Jun 2015   Follow @RodgerShanahan

Three terrorist attacks carried out by within hours of each other in Kuwait, Tunisia and France over the weekend raise questions about the degree of coordination between them and whether these attacks have broader implications. At the moment, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Tunisian and Kuwaiti attacks but has remained silent on the apparent 'lone wolf' attack in France. The timing of the attack reflects the fact that ISIS has called for attacks during Ramadan; the first anniversary of the declaration of the caliphate this week may also have influenced the timing.

Although a full analysis of these attacks can be better made once more details become available, there are some early observations we can make:

1. The attack plans were still pretty simple

A single person with an AK-47 at a tourist beach is going to kill a lot of people before he gets killed. A suicide bomber in a packed mosque during Friday prayers is also going to kill a lot of people. These attacks require a small support team to decide on the target and timing, to source the weapon and the explosives, and to transport the attacker to the target, but the logistic support requirements are pretty minimal for the carnage they facilitate. If the French attack was ISIS-inspired then virtually no planning is required, although the limited damage it inflicted reflects this.

2. The target selection is interesting

The Tunisian target (a tourist beach) has a double advantage of not only targeting Westerners but also of dealing a significant economic blow to the Tunisian state. Tourism accounts for approximately 15% of Tunisia's GDP and thousands of European vacationers have now left the country, which goes to show you that even a single gunman with a rifle can have strategic effects.

The mosque in Kuwait is a Shaykhiyya mosque (a somewhat peripheral, more esoteric sub-group of Shi'a believers), frequented by a largely Hasawiyya group; they  are ethnically Gulf Arab, but more particularly they trace their roots back to al-Ahsa in Saudi's Eastern province. It raises the question of whether the attackers sought out the target because of these peculiarities, whether they even knew or whether they didn't care.

Relations between Kuwait's Shi'a and the Emir of Kuwait are good, so such an attack is unlikely to foment local unrest (more so now the attacker is allegedly a Saudi). So an argument can be made that the attack either simply shows ISIS's religious bigotry or that it is designed with an Iraqi audience in mind. The more ISIS targets the region's Shi'a, the less conciliatory the Shi'a government in Iraq will feel towards their Sunni countrymen and the less able it is to achieve the national unity that is the key to defeating ISIS.

3. Saudi Arabia has problems

Kuwaiti authorities have indicated that the mosque bomber was a Saudi national who flew into Kuwait on the morning of the bombing, which would indicate that there are some linkages between Saudis willing to blow themselves up and regional ISIS support cells who want to use them. There are already more than 3000 Saudis fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and one English-language Saudi newspapers reported that more than 1300 ISIS sympathisers have been arrested in the Kingdom in the last eight months. As with its al Qaeda problem a decade ago, Saudi Arabia's educational and social system makes it a rich hunting ground for would-be jihadists.

You may also be interested in