ISIS Attacks Tunisia: Tawfik Jelassi Discusses the Significance of the Armed Attack on the Tunisian Border Town of Ben Gardane in March

By Jelassi, Tawfik | New Zealand International Review, May-June 2016 | Go to article overview

ISIS Attacks Tunisia: Tawfik Jelassi Discusses the Significance of the Armed Attack on the Tunisian Border Town of Ben Gardane in March


Jelassi, Tawfik, New Zealand International Review


Were you surprised by the attack on Ben Gardane?

Absolutely. 2015 was a bloody year for Tunisia. We had three major attacks: on the Bardo national museum in March, on a major hotel in Sousse in June, and on the presidential guard in Tunis 100 metres from the interior ministry in November. The latest attack of 7 March 2016 cannot really be classified as being just a terrorist act. It was actually an attempt to take control of a Tunisian city to establish an outpost for ISIS in the country! This is unprecedented and deeply troubling.

Does this mean Tunisia is not in control of security in that border region?

Tunisia is still on top of the issue. Luckily, the security forces were able to defend the city from the attack. There were around 50 casualties among the terrorists, who were suspected to number over 100. But they managed to assassinate some members of the security forces at home, which means they had co-operation from inside Tunisia, possibly dormant ISIS cells that were activated for the attack. All of the identified ISIS casualties so far have turned out to be Tunisians. This raises a lot of questions about what is ahead. Are there more dormant terrorist cells in the country? Will there be other ISIS attempts to take territorial control?

What should the European Union do?

Tunisia was already de-stabilised by the insecurity in Libya. The latest attack is a symptom of problems that go beyond its borders and concern the entire international community. Tunisia is often forgotten until there is a terrorist attack, but it has very strong ties to Europe. The international community has recognised Tunisia by granting the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian Quartet that facilitated our National Dialogue in the fall of 2013. But beyond that there has not been much support for Tunisia, the 'Democracy Start-up'. The country was the only ray of hope that came out of the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, but now the country faces economic problems that need to be addressed and major security challenges as well. The European Union and the international community at large are in a position to help Tunisia on the security, economic and social levels.

What can be done by the European Union for Tunisia's security?

Tunisia needs security equipment: it lacks advanced attack helicopters, night vision military capabilities and more to face the threat that the radical groups pose to the country. It would benefit from more intelligence sharing as well. There have been some partial intelligence failures, and Tunisia is sometimes in a reactive mode. Becoming more proactive would help combat the terrorist threat more effectively. On the economic side, certain regions are lagging behind; they do not have sufficient factories or development projects that can create new job opportunities for the unemployed youth. …

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