Tunisia Faces Double-Edged Sword, Terrorism In and Out of it’s Borders

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The Tunisian government has revealed its plans to build a 100 mile long sand wall along its border with Libya in attempt to counter threats from Islamist terrorists. Thirty-eight tourists recently lost their lives when gunman Seifeddine Rezgui opened fire on a popular beach resort in Tunisia. In March, a gunman opened fire in the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, killing 22 people, again mostly tourists. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for both attacks. IS has recently installed bases in Libya, and more than 7,000 Tunisians are suspected to have joined the ranks of IS.

Although Tunisia may benefit from the installation of the border wall, Tunisian officials are failing to see the big picture of their terrorism problem. In part, a major risk is the fact that the shooters were Tunisians who traveled to Libya for jihad training, and reentered Tunisia because visas are not required. This raises the question of how many of the 7,000 reported Tunisian IS militants have or plan to return to Tunisia. In order to properly counter terrorism in Tunisia, the government should first focus on targeting those inside the country who are indoctrinating citizens in order to stop those from leaving to get training. Only then will a wall serve its purpose well, and keep those who have received training out.

Significant risks exist inside Tunisia’s borders including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, who is known to operate out of the lawless mountains in Western Tunisia. In addition, religious and political intolerance still looms even after largely secular President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in 2011 during the Arab Spring.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has stated Tunisia is at war against terrorism. In response, AQIM has warned the Tunisian government that “an open war on Islam and Muslims aimed at pleasing America, France, and Algeria, will be quite costly.” Over the past two years, 34 Tunisian soldiers have been killed by AQIM militants, and scores more have been injured in attacks by the same militants. AQIM has taken advantage of the lawlessness regions of western Tunisia, enabling them to easily smuggle weapons including rocket-propelled grenades into Tunisia’s borders. The smuggled armory has been used in multiple AQIM attacks in Tunisia, including an attack that left four policemen dead.

On July 4, President Essebsi declared a 30-day state of emergency, allowing military forces to combat terrorism however they see fit, and restricting rights such as public assembly. The extended state of emergency emerges at the same time as a new Tunisian counterterrorism bill is being discussed in the northern African country’s parliament. The bill, which was first introduced in March following the Bardo Museum attack, allows for suspects to be help in incommunicado detention for up to 15 days without being taken to a judge, and permits death sentences for those convicted of acts of terrorism that resulted in casualties.

In the wake of Ben Ali’s demise, the Muslim Brotherhood connected Ennahda group served as the interim government. The Ennahda government was alleged to have partnered with the jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia to target its secular opponents, and Tunisia had become a breeding ground for terrorism when the party stepped down in 2014, when Essebsi was elected into office.

Both major terrorist attacks in Tunisia took place after the Tunisia-Libya border was closed to traffic in August. Thus, little confidence can be instilled in the effectiveness of Tunisia’s newest wall to deter terrorism inside the nation.

Jomaa previously explained the Tunsian military is vastly underequipped, and more emphasis needs to be placed on intelligence gathering, and training in order to properly confront terrorism. Tunisia must develop an adequate national security strategy, or as President Essebsi has expressed, Tunisian society could collapse should it face yet another horrific attack by jihadist terrorists.

While a new wall along the Libyan border can help Tunisian officials prevent indoctrinated Tunisians from returning to their home country, Tunisia needs to first combat its internal struggles with terrorism. Because there are concerns related to Tunisia’s ability to protect and secure the wall, the Tunisian government must first halt indoctrination inside its borders to ultimately lessen the influx of jihadis attempting to return from Libya. As many nations around the world are doing, Tunisia must find a way to deter individuals from instilling the warped belief systems of terrorist organizations, such as Ansar al-Sharia and IS, onto its citizens in order to prevent the fleeing to join IS, and returning home to carry out attacks.

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