Three violent attacks on Friday in Tunisia, Kuwait and France have left dozens dead and wounded.
It's unclear whether the incidents are linked, but they happened days after Islamic State militants asked their followers "to make Ramadan a month of calamities for the nonbelievers." Authorities are still investigating.
- Tunisia: Gunman rampages through seaside resort killing 37
- Kuwait: IS affiliate hits Shiite mosque, killing 25 people
- France: Beheading, attack at US factory; suspect detained
A young man unfurled an umbrella and pulled out a Kalashnikov, opening fire on European sunbathers and killing at least 37 at a Tunisian beach resort — one of three deadly attacks Friday from Europe to the Middle East that followed a call to violence by Islamic State extremists.
The killings in the Tunisian resort of Sousse happened at about the same time as a bombing at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait and an attack on a U.S.-owned factory in France that included a beheading. It was unclear if the violence was linked but it came days after the IS militants urged their followers "to make Ramadan a month of calamities for the nonbelievers." In all, at least 63 people were killed.
The attack in Tunisia, the country's worst ever, comes just months after the March 18 assault on the national museum in Tunis that killed 22 people, again mostly tourists, and has called into question the newly elected government's ability to protect the country.
Rafik Chelli, the secretary of state of the Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that theattack was carried out by a young student not previously known to authorities. The rampage at the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel ended when he was shot to death by police.
"He was certainly involved with certain extremists," Chelli said.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the Shiite mosque in Kuwait City that killed at least 25 people, while a man with ties to Islamic radicals rammed a car into a gas factory in southeastern France, where a severed head was found on a post at the entrance.
In an audio recording released Tuesday, the Islamic State called on its supporters to increaseattacks during Ramadan and "be keen on waging invasion in this eminent month and commit martyrdom."
The carnage in Tunisia began on the beach, where tourists described hearing what sounded like fireworks and then running for their lives when they realized it was gunfire. Video of the aftermath showed medics using beach chairs as stretchers to carry away people in swimsuits.
"He had a parasol in his hand. He went down to put it in the sand and then he took out his Kalashnikov and began shooting wildly," Chelli said.
The gunman then entered the pool area of the Imperial Marhaba hotel before moving into the building, killing people as he went.
The Health Ministry said the 37 dead included Tunisians, British, Germans and Belgians, without giving a breakdown.
British tourist Gary Pine told AP he was on the beach with his wife around noon when heard the shooting. They shouted for their son to get out of the water, grabbed their bag and ran for the hotel. Their son told them he saw someone shot on the beach.
There was "sheer panic" at the hotel, Pine said. "There were a lot of concerned people, a few people in tears with panic and a few people — older guests — they'd turned their ankles or there was a few little minor injuries and nicks and scrapes."
Elizabeth O'Brien, an Irish tourist who was with her two sons, told Irish Radio she was on the beach when the shooting began.
"I thought, 'Oh my God. It sounds like gunfire,' so I just ran to the sea to my children and grabbed our things" before fleeing to their hotel room, she said.
Since overthrowing its secular dictator in 2011, Tunisia has been plagued by terror attacks, although only recently have they targeted the tourism sector, which makes up nearly 15 percent of GDP. Tourism is especially important in coastal resorts like Sousse.
"Tunisia's economy is heavily dependent on tourism and that revenue is now about to all but disappear, leaving Tunisia in dire straits at a critical junction in its political transition," North Africa analyst Geoff Porter said.
In the aftermath of the attack, many tourists said they wanted to leave the country immediately.
International police agency Interpol offered investigative help in the wake of Friday's violence. Interpol Secretary-General Juergen Stock said the attacks "show the truly global dimension to current terrorist threats."
A suicide bomber purportedly from an Islamic State affiliate unleashed the first terrorist attack in Kuwait in more than two decades on Friday, killing at least 25 people and wounding scores more in a bombing that targeted Shiite worshippers after midday prayers.
The bombing struck the Imam Sadiq Mosque in the residential neighborhood of al-Sawabir in Kuwait's capital, Kuwait City. It is one of the oldest Shiite mosques in Kuwait, a predominantly Sunni Arab nation where at least at third of the population is believed to be Shiite Muslims.
It was the third attack in five weeks to be claimed by a purported IS affiliate calling itself the Najd Province, a reference to the central region of Saudi Arabia where the ultraconservative Sunni ideology of Wahhabism originated.
The upstart IS branch had claimed two prior bombing attacks on Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia that killed 26 people in late May. The group was unheard of until the first Saudi bombing.
The attack took place as worshippers were standing shoulder to shoulder in group prayer, according to one of the witnesses at the mosque, Hassan al-Haddad.
The explosion ripped through the back of the mosque, near the door, he said, adding that other worshippers behind him said they saw a man walk in, stand in the back with other congregants and detonate his device.
Another witness, Ahmed al-Shawaf, said he heard a man interrupt prayer by shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great" in Arabic, several times. The man then he yelled out something about joining the Prophet Muhammad for iftar, the dusk meal with which Muslims break their daytime fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which started last week. Then, the blast came, al-Shawaf said.
The explosion took place near the end of a second prayer, which is traditional to Shiites and follows the main midday Friday prayer.
The Ministry of Interior said 25 people were killed and 202 wounded. Police formed a cordon around the mosque's complex immediately after the explosion, banning people from entering or gathering near the area. Ambulances could be seen ferrying the wounded from the site.
"We couldn't see anything, so we went straight to the wounded and tried to carry them out. We left the dead," said witness Hassan al-Haddad, 21, who said he saw several lifeless bodies.
A posting on a Twitter account known to belong to the Islamic State group claimed the explosion was work of a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt. It said the attack was carried out by the Najd Province, which also claimed the Saudi bombings.
The Islamic State group regards Shiite Muslims as heretics, and refers to them derogatively as "rafideen" or "rejectionists." The IS Twitter statement said the bomber had targeted a "temple of the apostates."
Immediately after the attack, Kuwait's ruler, Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who is in his mid-80s, visited the site of the attack. The Cabinet convened an emergency session later in the afternoon. Kuwaiti Justice and Islamic Affairs Minister Yaacoub al-Sanea condemned the attack in a statement carried by the official Kuwait News Agency.
But the attack also drew accusations from some Kuwaiti Shiites, who said that Kuwait's leaders should have been more pro-active in protecting Shiites, and that their response to the attack is too little too late.
Former Sunni lawmaker, Abdullah al-Neybari, said the Kuwaiti government "is not doing what it should be doing to fight extremism in the country. "
This is a wakeup call to fight harder," he said.
The last massive attack to take place in Kuwait was in 1983, when Iranian-backed Shiite militants from Iraq carried out bombings that killed at least five and wounded nearly 90.
A man once flagged for ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a vehicle Friday into an American-owned gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of his employer was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said.
France immediately opened a terrorism investigation.
"Islamist terrorism has again struck France," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
The factory attack came on the same day as a gunman mowed down scores of tourists on a beach in Tunisia and a suicide bomber killed over two dozen worshippers at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait. All three attacks were condemned by the United Nations, the United States, Israel and others.
The attack began shortly before 10 a.m. when the vehicle made it through the gate of the gas factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon. The vehicle then plowed into gas canisters, touching off the blast, President Francois Hollande said in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit.
"No doubt about the intention — to cause an explosion," Hollande said. The French president later raised the security alert for the southeastern region to its highest level for the next three days.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The severed head at the factory's entrance appeared to mimic the Islamic State group's practice of beheading prisoners and displaying their heads for all to see. The man's body was found elsewhere on the factory grounds.
A security official said two flags — one white and one black, both bearing Arabic inscriptions — were found nearby.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the main suspect — a man from the Lyon region who had been flagged in 2006 for suspected ties to radical Salafists — was seized by an alert firefighter. Cazeneuve said the suspect had been known to intelligence services, who had him under surveillance from 2006-08.
Other people, including Salhi's wife, were seen on television being taken into custody by police from his apartment building in Saint Priest hours after the attack.
"People who could have participated in this abject crime are in custody," Cazeneuve said, adding that security was also tightened Friday at religious sites around the country.
Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said four people were in custody. He said the attacker was known to factory personnel because he came in regularly for deliveries. The attacker entered the factory grounds in southeast France in a utility truck, then crashed the vehicle into a hangar at the site, prompting an explosion.
Molins says a knife and a decapitated body were found near the crashed truck and the body's head was found hanging on a gate. The head was surrounded by two flags carrying Islamic declarations.
Molins said the attacker, his wife, sister and another suspect are in custody. He said investigators are trying to determine whether there are accomplices.
The gas factory belongs to Air Products, an American chemical company based in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The company said all its employees had been accounted for and were evacuated from the premises but did not say if any had been injured.
"The site is secure. Our crisis and emergency response teams have been activated and are working closely with all relevant authorities," the company said in a statement.
Air Products makes gases used by a wide range of industries, including food production, medicine and the oil and gas. It has more than 20,000 employees in 50 countries, mostly in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Hollande said a major explosion appeared to be the goal.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said it was too soon to tell whether the three attacks Friday — in France, Tunisia and Kuwait — were the work of Islamic State extremists.
"We unequivocally condemn these terrorist attacks today and will continue to work with our coalition and international partners to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL as well as other violent extremist groups around the globe," Warren said in a statement.
He said U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had been briefed on the attacks and was monitoring developments as he flew back to Washington from Germany.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the attacks and said those "responsible foresee appalling acts of violence must be swiftly brought to justice."
Spain, which borders France, raised its terror threat level as a precautionary measure following Friday's terror attacks. Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told reporters the level was raised from 3 to 4 out a possible 5, meaning the country faces a high risk of a possible attack.
France went on high alert in January after attacks against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a kosher grocery store and a policewoman that left 20 people dead in the Paris region, including three Islamic extremist attackers.
Since then, fears of copycat attacks have risen. One person was arrested in April after authorities said he was plotting to gun down people in churches in the Paris region.