CAIRO – The coordinated attacks on diners and concertgoers across Paris on Friday appear to mark the Islamic State’s first major operation outside the Middle East, and to confirm the group’s adoption of global terror tactics to boost its profile and strike back at its enemies.
The group claimed credit for Friday’s attacks, which killed 129 people. President Francoise Hollande called the violence “an act of war” organized by Islamic State.
Until recently, the extremist movement was focused almost entirely on seizing territory on which to build its so-called caliphate, including in Iraq and Syria, where violent civil wars have left destabilizing security vacuums.
Its military gains won the extremists recruits from around the globe. Islamic State affiliates now control most of the Libyan coastal town of Sirte, in another region where state collapse has led to political chaos, and operate with relative freedom in the northern part of Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.
In both areas, the militants carried out attacks but also attempted to establish some sort of rule, including the imposition of an extreme version of sharia law and the provision of basic services, similar to what it does in cities in Iraq and Syria.
But earlier this year, Islamic State loyalists began attacking soft targets outside of the borders of the “caliphate” — in Tunisia, Yemen, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The targets included a museum, a beach resort and worshipers at Shiite mosques. In Cairo, an Islamic State cell claimed a car bomb attack on an Italian consulate.
On Oct. 31, the group’s affiliate in Sinai asserted responsibility for the downing of a Russian airliner. The jihadists’ role in the crash has not been confirmed by investigators, but a number of European airlines halted flights to and from the Sharm el-Sheikh airport where the passenger jet had departed.
In the wake of the crash, international law professor and security expert at Cornell University, Jens David Ohlin said the Islamic State is “combining the bloodiest aspects of statehood and terrorism into one dangerous mess.”