French President Hollande calls for “action, deterrence, and prevention.”
Three terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait killed more than 50 people and left many more injured on Friday, in a spate of assault that appeared linked with Islamic radicals.
The bloodiest was in Tunisia, authorities reported that as many as 28 people had been killed when gunmen attacked two tourist hotels in the resort town of Sousse. They opened fire on the beach, causing chaos as holidaymakers tried to flee the bloodshed, according to media reports. It was the second mass attack this year; Islamist gunmen attacked tourists at a Tunis museum in March, killing 21.
In Kuwait, a suicide bomber attacked a Shiite mosque during Friday prayers, killing at least 25; militants from the Islamic State claimed credit for the attack.
In France, two men carrying the black flag of the Islamic State took part in a attack on an American-owned gas canister factory in the south-east of the country. In a particularly grisly note, a decapitated head covered with Arabic script was attached to the Air Products factory fence. The man’s body was found several meters away.
“This attack was in a vehicle driven by one person, perhaps accompanied by another,” French President François Hollande said from Brussels, where he was attending a European Council summit. “The individual suspected of committing this attack has been arrested and identified.”
Hollande said he was returning to Paris, where he planned to hold an emergency defense council meeting Friday afternoon. Hollande interrupted a meeting early Friday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras when the news of the terror attack broke. He then watched it unfold with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to a French press official.
“In these moments, you have to express solidarity towards the victim. Leaders at the council also expressed their solidarity this morning. Everybody remembers what happened in our country,” Hollande added. “Emotion is not the only response,” but also “action, deterrence, and prevention.”
The arrest of the 30-year-old suspect, who was known to the French DGSi external security services, came about an hour after a powerful explosion rocked the site. French anti-terrorism authorities have opened an investigation into the attack.
Police sources told Le Monde newspaper they believed the second attacker may be among those injured in the explosion. The arrested suspect was being questioned by police and had given them his identity, which has not been made public, the paper said.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls raised the terror alert level for all “sensitive sites” in the area, which is near the city of Grenoble in the Rhône-Alpes region. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was at the factory, where police cordoned off the area around the explosion.
About 40 employees were evacuated from the site, French media reported.
Far-right French leader Marine Le Pen was among the first politicians to react publicly to the attack.
“The grand statements must now stop. The marches, the slogans and the emotional communication must give way to action,” she said in a statement.
She called for national borders to be re-established, suspected radical Islamists to be expelled from the country, mosques placed under surveillance and more funding for security services.
But Federica Mogherini, the EU’s diplomatic chief, said the attacks should instead result in a common approach. “Tunisia, Kuwait, France: Europe and arab world united as victims and in the response. Terrorists want to divide us, they unite us even more,” she tweeted.
In January, France suffered its worst terrorist attack in decades when two gunmen stormed the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and killed ten people for over what they said was an insulting portrayal of the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
Seventeen people were killed in a series of attacks, which ended when police stormed two sites where gunmen had holed up with hostages.
Hundreds of thousands of French people joined “I am Charlie” rallies across France to express support for the publication. The French government followed up with a new surveillance law, approved by parliament on Wednesday, that significantly expands its power to track suspected terrorists.
The Brussels police department in charge of security at the European Council told POLITICO that law enforcement officials were taking the necessary measures to secure European leaders. European institutions have been on alert ever since the Charlie Hebdo attack — the threat level for potential targets around the Schuman area in central Brussels has stayed at level three, with soldiers toting assault rifles guarding the entrances of institutions.
“At the moment, there is no change in the threat level,” said police commissioner Christian De Coninck.