Three Islamist terrorist attacks were carried out today on three different continents, almost simultaneously.
In Lyon, France a man named Yassin Salih rammed a car through the gate of an American-owned chemical factory and failed in an attempt to blow up the complex. A manager at the factory was decapitated, and the killer wrote slogans in Arabic on his victim's head and affixed Islamist flags to a fence. Mr. Salih had been under surveillance by French intelligence in the past for suspected ties to Islamist militants.
In Tunisia, at least two terrorists stormed a Mediterranean beach popular with both local and foreign tourists and killed 27 people. In Kuwait, a suicide bomber attacked a Shiite mosque, with at least 25 people killed.
Are these attacks connected? While it's hard to imagine central coordination for attacks staged on the same day on three continents, central inspiration may be another matter.
This is the fasting month of Ramadan for the world's Muslims and the Islamic State, the militant group that controls territory in Iraq and Syria and revels in savagery, usually tries to make a splash during the holy month. Last year when Ramadan started on June 29 the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared himself the caliph for all the world's Muslims and urged followers to celebrate by slaughtering their enemies. During Ramadan 2013 the group stormed Abu Ghraib prison on Baghdad's outskirts and released hundreds of militants, an action that in hindsight was the signature moment in the group's rise to prominence.
Ramadan began this year on June 18, and earlier this week the group issued a renewed call to arms. On Tuesday Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, an IS spokesman, issued an audio statement calling for a "calamity" for "infidels, crusaders, Shiites and apostates" to all be killed. "Be keen to conquer in this holy month and to become exposed to martyrdom," Adnani said.
The Islamic State took credit for the murders in Kuwait, and said the killer was Abu Suleiman al-Muwahed. Social media accounts associated with the group have so far been silent on the killings in France and Tunisia. In the case of France, that a man already under suspicion of militancy was in regular contact with IS leaders in Syria or Iraq seems far-fetched. More likely he was inspired by the group and acted alone.
Tunisia could be another matter. When terrorists killed 23 people, mostly foreign tourists, at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March, IS claimed responsibility.
To be sure, groups that rely on terror often claim attacks they didn't plot or execute to make themselves look more powerful. But the latest attacks could well be a measure of the extent to which the Islamic State has supplanted Al Qaeda as the go-to brand for people seeking to murder in the name of Islam.
So far, IS has focused on capturing and ruling territory in Iraq and Syria. But given its expansive goals, apocalyptic beliefs, and limited conventional ability, a shift toward global terrorism looks like a foregone conclusion. And that makes more international attacks increasingly likely.