On Thursday 14 July, Bastille Day in France, at least 84 people, including several children, were killed and dozens more hurt after a man drove a lorry into crowds who had gathered to celebrate along the famous Promenade Des Anglais in the French seaside city. Some 202 people were injured in the attack, with 52 in critical condition, of whom 25 are on life support.
The driver of the lorry has since been identified as Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31. French prosecutors have disclosed that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had driven the 19-tonne lorry 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) along the Promenade des Anglais and fired at police with a 7.65 mm calibre automatic pistol when the vehicle was close to the Negreco hotel. He continued for another 300 m, where his vehicle was stopped near the Palais de la Mediterranee hotel, where he was shot dead by police. Weapons found inside the lorry were replicas or fake and included an ammunition magazine, a fake pistol, replica Kalashnikov and M16 rifles, and a dummy grenade. There was also a bicycle, empty pallets, documents and a mobile phone. The attack occurred at about 22:45 local time (20:45 GMT).
According to French Prosecutor Francois Molins, a search of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s Nice home has been carried out and a number of items have been seized. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a chauffer and delivery man, had three children but had separated from his wife, who was taken into police custody on Friday. The prosecutor added that while he was known to the police as a petty criminal, he was “totally unknown to intelligence services…and was never flagged for signs of radicalization.”
While Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve stated that he could not confirm links to jihadism, Prime Minister Manuel Valls later told France 2 television that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was a “terrorist without doubt linked to radical Islamism in one way or another.”
Tunisian security sources have disclosed that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel came from the Tunisian town of Msaken, adding that he visited the North African country frequently, the last time being eight months ago. Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas has disclosed that the suspect had been given a suspended sentence earlier this year following a confrontation with another driver, adding that this was his only conviction.
Since Friday, five people believed to be linked to Lahouaiej-Bouhlel have been taken into police custody. According to the Paris prosecutor’s office, three arrests were made on Saturday and two on Friday, including Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s estranged wife.
IS Claims Responsibility
On 16 July, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group claimed reasonability for the attack in Nice. The jihadist-linked Amaq news agency quoted an IS security source as stating that one of its “soldiers” carried out the atrocity “in response to calls to target nations of coalition states that are fighting (IS).”
President Francois Hollande, who arrived in Nice on Friday, stated that Thursday’s attack was of “an undeniable terrorist nature,” warning that the battle against terrorism would be long, as France faced an enemy “that will continue to attack those people and those countries that count liberty as an essential value.” President Hollande further disclosed that the attack was carried out “to satisfy the cruelty of an individual or possibly a group” and that many of the victims were foreigners and young children, adding “we will overcome the suffering because we are a united France.
A state of emergency, which has been in place since the November 2015 Paris attacks, has been extended by three months. It was due to end at the end of this month. This means that police and soldiers will continue to be on the streets, guarding key buildings. It also means that scanners and metal arches will be placed at some shops and regular bag searches will be carried out. Gendarme reserves have been called up in support. There are already tighter checks at France’s borders.
France however is under scrutiny that a terrorist attack has occurred while the country was under an emergency state. Security services have denied that they relaxed after the Euro 2016 football tournament, which concluded on 10 July, and there has been praise for the relentless job that they have done in recent months and for the speed of their reaction during the attack in Nice. While intelligence gathering has improved, predicting and preventing every attack is impossible, with some questioning whether even a state of emergency is an effective level of response. In the wake of the attack in Nice, French authorities have warned that they are going to have to live with terrorism.
According to a defense consultancy, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has lost 12% of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria in the first half of this year.
IHS has found that the “caliphate,” which was proclaimed by IS two years ago, has shrunk to 68,300 sq km (26,370 sq miles). According to IHS, in January 2015, just six months after IS declared the creation of a caliphate, the terror group controlled some 90,800 sq km of Iraq and Syria, adding that by December, that had shrunk by 12,800 sq km to 78,000 sq km, a net loss of 14%. According to IHS, since then IS has lost a further 9,700 sq km and now controls 68,300 sq km, which is roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland or the US state of West Virginia.
In Syria, IS has come under pressure from Syrian government forces, who are backed by Russia and Iran, and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters who are supported by a US-led multinational collation. In February, the SDF captured the eastern town of Shaddadi, which was a major hub for IS, while in March, the ancient town of Palmyra was retaken by government forces. In neighbouring Iraq, troops and allied militiamen are preparing a long-awaited offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul, which is IS’s last remaining urban stronghold there.
IHS has reported that the losses of land in Iraq and Syria had led IS to set up its attacks on civilian targets elsewhere in the Middle East and in Europe, noting that such attacks are likely to intensify. Last week, almost 300 people died in an IS suicide bombing in Baghdad, Iraq. The attck came just days after the Iraqi government declared that it had retaken full control of the city of Fallujah, which is located just west to the capital.
According to CIA Director John Brennan, the efforts of the US-led coalition that is fighting the so-called Islamic State (IS) group have failed to reduce its ability to carry out militant attacks.
Speaking to the Senate intelligence committee, in an update on the threat from extremists, Mr Brennan told the hearing that the group remains “formidable” despite territorial losses. He stated, “unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL (Islamic State) on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.” He indicated that he estimates that IS now has more fighters than al-Qaeda when that militant group was at its strongest, adding that there are as many as 22,000 IS fighters operating in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. He also indicated that the CIA is particularly concerned about the growth of Libya as an IS base.
While Mr Brennan indicated that the US-led coalition had made progress against IS, the group has “a large cadre of Western fighter who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West,” warning that “to compensate for territorial losses, ISIL will probably rely more on guerrilla tactics, including high-profile attacks outside territory it holds.”
Mr Brennan’s appearance comes just days after the attack on a gay nightclub in Florida. The gunman, Omar Mateen, had pledged allegiance to IS, however Mr Brennan told the hearing that the CIA had not uncovered any direct link between Mateen and foreign militant groups.
US officials indicated in early June that they see no evidence that Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram has received significant operational support or financing from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, more than a year after Boko Haram pledged allegiance to it.
The assessment, which is detailed by multiple US officials, suggests that Bok Haram’s loyalty pledge has so far mostly been a branding exercise designed to boost its international jihadi credentials as well as to attract recruits and appeal to the IS leadership for assistance. The US view of Boko Haram as a locally-focused, homegrown insurgency, is likely to keep the group more to the margins of the US fight against IS in Africa. The US military’s attention is largely centred on Libya, which is home to IS’ strongest affiliate outside the Middle East and where the US has carried out air strikes. According to officials, no such direct US intervention is currently being contemplated against Boko Haram. One US official has disclosed that “if there is no meaningful connection between ISIL (IS) and Boko – and we haven’t found one so far – then there are no grounds for US military involvement in West Africa other than assistance and training,” adding, “this is an African fight, and we can assist them, but its their fight.”
In public comments, senior US officials have disclosed that they are closely watching for any increased threat to Americans from Boko Haram and any confirmation of media reports of deepening ties with IS.
Recent arrests have indicated that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s presence in East Africa is growing, with officials indicated that they are recruiting young Kenyans for jihad abroad and raising fears that some of them will return to threaten the country, which has already been affected by Somali-based al-Qaeda aligned al-Shabaab.
Kenyan intelligence agencies estimate that around one hundred men and women may have gone to join IS in Libya and Syria. This has triggered concerns that some may chose to come back in order to stage attacks on Kenyan and foreign targets in a country that has already been the victim of regular, deadly terrorism. According to Rashid Abid, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, which is based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, “there is now a real threat that Kenya faces from IS and the danger will continue to increase.”
The first al-Qaeda attack in Kenya was the 1998 US embassy bombing and the most recent large attack was a university massacre in Garissa in 2015. The IS threat however is new and as yet ill defined. In March, four men appeared in court accused of seeking to travel to Libya in order to join IS. Then in early May, Kenyan police announced the arrest of a medical student, his wife and her friend. All three have been accused of recruiting for IS and plotting an anthrax attack. At the time, two other medical students were said to be on the run. Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet described a countrywide “terror network” linked to IS and led by Mohamed Abdi Ali, a medical intern at a regional hospital, “planning large-scale attacks” including one to “unleash a biological attack…using anthrax.” Three weeks later, police announced the arrest of two more members of “the ISIS (another acronym for IS) network that is seeking to establish itself in Kenya in order to conduct terror attacks against innocent Kenyans.” Police indicated that they had found “materials terrorists typically use in the making of IEDs” – homemade bombs – as well as “bows and poisoned arrows.”
While some experts have dismissed the suggestion of an imminent large-scale attack in Kenya, they have noted that the threat of IS radicalization, recruitment and return in the East African nation is genuine, with one foreign law enforcement official, who has examined the anthrax allegation, disclosing that “we cant see either the intent to carry out such an attack nor any real planning of it…But there is something in it: there is IS here, mainly involved in recruitment and facilitation.” Other officials also note that the recent arrests show that radicalization continues to be an issue affecting the entire country. While officials note that recruitment into Somali-based al-Shabaab remains the primary danger, there are increasing credible reports that other groups, such as IS, are gaining ground.
For now, Kenyan authorities have struggled to manage the return of their nationals from Somalia, where hundreds of Kenyans make up the bulk of al-Shabaab’s foreign fighters. In the future, experts have noted that that they will also likely have to deal with returning IS extremists as well as self-radicalized “lone wolf” attackers who have been inspired by the group’s ideology and online propaganda.