Week of attacks, scores of civilian deaths and a question: Why them?
A family of Canadian volunteers dedicated to
alleviating poverty in Africa, a group of intrepid German retirees on a tour of
Turkey and the Middle East, an Iraqi who had gone to Baghdad seeking refuge
from the jihadist violence of his hometown, a Canadian audiologist who had
fallen in love with Indonesia, were among the scores of people slaughtered by
Islamic extremists in four countries last week in spasms of bloodshed that left
loved ones stunned at the randomness of the killings.
“They did things like fix roofs and repaint
blackboards,” the mother of Maude Carrier, one of the Canadians killed in
Burkina Faso, told The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper. “Who would want to
kill people fixing blackboards?”
The settings for the attacks were the softest of soft
targets: a shopping mall in Iraq; a hotel and a cafe in Ouagadougou, the
capital of Burkina Faso; a popular shopping area in Jakarta, Indonesia; and
Sultanahmet Square, the historic and cultural heart of Istanbul.
Seemingly uncoordinated, the indiscriminate violence
highlighted the strategy of Islamist militants determined to sow terror in
disparate corners of the world.
In the year since gunmen murdered 12 people in Paris
in an attack aimed at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly newspaper that had
lampooned Islam, jihadists have embarked on an ever-widening campaign of global
bloodletting that would appear to have little strategic value.
The attacks also highlight the growing rivalry between
followers of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, extremist organizations determined
to prove their jihadist bona fides through a gruesome tally of random
In Baghdad and nearby Diyala Province, Islamic State
assailants last Monday killed at least 40 people in twin attacks that targeted
ordinary Iraqis as they shopped and relaxed at a cafe.
In Jakarta on Thursday, gunmen fatally shot the
audiologist, Tahar Amer-Ouali, who had spent much of his life helping the
hearing-impaired. In Ouagadougou, the dead included Westerners and Africans,
Muslims and Christians.
Carrier, 37, a high school French teacher from Quebec
and the mother of two girls, was among those killed by Qaeda gunmen as they sat
in the Cappuccino Cafe, a popular spot in downtown Ouagadougou.
Also killed were Carrier’s father, Yves; his current
wife, Gladys Chamberland; and the couple’s 19-year-old son, all members of an
aid mission that was sprucing up schools in Burkina Faso, a former French
Some members of the group, most of them educators, had
taken two or more trips to Africa coordinated by two organizations in Quebec.
“They fell in love with Burkina Faso,” Sister Yolande
Blier of the Congrégation des Soeurs de Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours near
Quebec City, one of the groups that helped coordinate the excursions, said,
according to The Canadian Press news agency. “They loved the values of the
Burkinabe; they loved the welcome there.”
A predominantly Muslim country, Burkina Faso had until
last week escaped the jihadist violence that has plagued its neighbours, Niger
and Mali, where an Islamic State attack in November killed at least 19 people
at a luxury hotel in Bamako, the capital.
In a Facebook posting, Chamberland, Carrier’s
stepmother, sought to play down the threat of terrorism in the region. “Your
chances of dying because of terrorism is 1 in 116 million,” she wrote, adding a
reference to the national lottery in Canada, “You are 10 times more likely to
win the 6/49.”
Survivors in Ouagadougou said the militants who
attacked the cafe and a nearby hotel chose their victims indiscriminately,
though they reportedly fired off extra rounds into the bodies of Westerners.
friend, partner in crime and love of my life,” his wife, Amy, wrote on her
Facebook page. “The best husband ever. An amazing father to his children and a
papa to everyone.”
The other victims of the attacks carried passports
from France, Libya, Portugal and Switzerland. But many of them, like Victoria
Yankovsky, a Ukrainian who ran the Cappuccino Cafe, considered themselves
“Their employees adored them and some even followed
them to new places, which is quite uncommon in Africa,” said Katerina
Zolotaryova, a friend of Ms. Yankovsky, who died alongside her husband and
9-year-old son. “It is a shock because usually terrorists don’t attack such
common, average people, who are not connected to politics or anything
The dead also included at least seven citizens of
Burkina Faso; among them were Simplice Armel Kinané, a fire-fighter who worked
for an air safety organization, and Ahmed Kéré, a local coordinator for an
American nonprofit group.
Kinané, according to his sister, was attending a
poolside reception at the Splendid Hotel when attackers set off an explosion
outside the building and then stormed inside. She said her brother was shot as
he tried to put out the flames that had engulfed a hotel guest.
“He was generous and supportive to the point of giving
his life in exchange,” the sister, Yolande Kinané, said. “He was our protector,
Those who knew Kéré, who worked for the Sonder
Project, an antipoverty group based in Florida, described him as a gentle,
exuberant man who worked on local school-building projects and helped Western
volunteers with translations.
Some victims had tried to start over after fleeing
conflict. Among the dead in Baghdad was Amir Mishaan, 45, a father of three who
had gone to the capital last year after Islamic State fighters seized his
Halfway across the world, in Indonesia, the Islamic
State militants who set off explosive devices outside a Starbucks in Jakarta
last Thursday appeared to be singling out foreigners. Mr. Amer-Ouali, 70, a
Canadian citizen born in Algeria, operated several hearing-aid clinics in the
Montreal area. His brother was among the 22 people wounded in the attack.
According to Canadian news accounts, Amer-Ouali split
his time between Montreal and Jakarta, where he ran a clinic called the
International Hearing Centre.
In an interview with the Canadian broadcaster CTV, a
son of Amer-Ouali described him as an avid mountain climber who had fallen in
love with Indonesia.
“That was a part of the world he really enjoyed. He
was helping deaf people,” the son, Farid Amer-Ouali, said, adding, “He tried to
expand those horizons to places around the world” and to people who “maybe have
less means than we have here.”
In Istanbul, the suicide bomber who waded into the
throngs near the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia appeared to have chosen a
group of German tourists who had arrived in Turkey a day earlier. The Turkish
authorities say the attacker, a Syrian in his late 20s, was an Islamic State
Most of the 10 people killed in the explosion he set
off were middle-class retirees: One had been a butcher, another a teacher,
another a construction manager.
The dead included a father and son from Dresden,
Günther Höppner, 75, a retired waiter, and Steffen Höppner, 51, who worked at a
Volkswagen factory. “All this is so senseless and impossible to comprehend
right now,“ Petra Höppner, Steffen’s wife, said by telephone. “I’m speechless
and devastated. My husband took his dad on that trip because my father-in-law
was very much interested in historic sites.” (Courtesy: The Washington Post)