Terrorism’s evil flame still gutters in Tunisia


IT is a cruel reality of terrorists that when they cannot reach a well-guarded soft target, they attack instead those who are protecting it. This is what Tunisia is now experiencing. The country’s important tourist industry was shattered by the 2015 slaughter at the Bardo museum in the capital and the carnage on a beach in the resort of Sousse. Daesh (the so-called IS) proudly claimed these horrific crimes.

And it achieved its nihilist aim because almost overnight, the tourists fled, empty hotels were forced to close and ten of thousands of Tunisians who had earned their living from tourism were thrown out of work. Last year however, governments around the world were removing their warnings against travel to the country and the holiday-makers have come flocking back.

The inept security at Sousse — the police chief later confessed to an official enquiry that he had been afraid to confront the lone terrorist murderer — has apparently been tightened up. Therefore the fanatics have focused their attacks at those who are guarding the country’s guests. Last October a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in the center of Tunis, injuring ten law officers and five passersby. It was the first terrorist outrage since 2015 and the authorities rightly judged that it was the start of a new campaign of violence.

A fortnight ago, there were two separate suicide bombings in which one police officer was slain and a dozen people injured. Once again Daesh crowed that it had been behind the crimes. But it appears that it gloated too soon. The two attacks provided important clues to the terror cell. Detectives identified Aymen Smiri, described as the terrorist ringleader and last week tracked him down to the working class suburb of Intilaka, to the south east of Tunis. When special forces surrounded his hideout, Smiri detonated a suicide vest and perished. A search of a nearby mosque led to the discovery of ten kilograms of explosives. Though the authorities are being tightlipped about their coup, there are reports that they discovered documents and communications devices which are likely to lead them to further members of the terrorist gang.

It is an unfortunate reality that when Daesh’s evil fortunes were at their highest, it had recruited some seven thousand Tunisians, by far the largest national contingent. Many of these dupes and bigots perished in the organization’s military defeat. But the government has been alert to the survivors trying to filter home, bringing their violence with them.

Most Tunisians are well-educated and many also speak French. But few are prosperous with limited employment opportunities in an economy with a relatively small manufacturing base, a seasonal tourist trade, limited raw materials but a successful agricultural sector. The strong flow of remittances from guest workers in neighboring Libya largely dried up as that country descended into chaos. Moreover, away from urban areas, particularly in the economically-neglected south, there is a deep well of disaffection with the authorities, on which terrorist recruiters have capitalized.

Effective security, which can never be total, will not root out the causes of largely young people being lured by the siren song of Daesh. Tunisia must endow all its people and to do that it needs to sell an effective story to foreign investors.