During a hearing session held by the Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, the Tunisian Interior Minister Taoufik Sharaf El-Din announced that 33 terrorist cells were been dismantled and 9 extremist were killed, as they were implementing 48 preemptive operations in the past few months.
Sharaf al-Din emphasized that the exceptional circumstances that Tunisia is living, require additional efforts to permanently eliminate terrorism and dismantle all armed groups and sleeper cells.
According to the Minister, since the beginning of 2020, military and security units arrested 1020 people on charges of having links with terrorist groups. It is noteworthy that many terrorist operations took place in Tunisia during 2020.Last May, terrorist attack targeted a security patrol in the vicinity of the US embassy, where two police officers were killed, while in September, terrorists conducted an operation in Souse, killing a security personnel.
In Tunisia, there are many active terrorist groups that are located in the Shaabani Mountains, in the west of the country, and they are similar to the Uqba Bin Nafei Battalion that belongs to al-Qaeda.
Political departments in Tunisia accuse the MB of spreading takfirist ideology and motivating youth to move towards extremism and violence, and joining terrorist groups.
Observers believe that the consequences of spreading terrorist cells in Tunisia are horrible, especially in light of the unrest taking place in southern Tunisia and the adjacent areas on the Libyan side.
Many international studies indicate that Tunisians are the most likely to join terrorist organizations and conflict hotbeds, which is a questionable issue, especially since Tunisia imposed itself as a democratic state despite the unrest that surrounds it.
Eilia al-Allani, a specialist in terrorism, confirms that terrorism phenomenon in Tunisia increased in the period that followed the revolution in 2011. Allani attributed that to the political change and the absence of political willingness to confront terrorism and terrorist organizations, in addition to the money that came from abroad without any inspections. Moreover, the deterioration of the Tunisian economy and increased rate of unemployment, led to increase that phenomenon. “The phenomenon has decreased in the past few years, but it does exist,” Allani added.
He stressed on the necessity of the international intervention to stop that phenomenon, pointing out that “Tunisia alone will not be able to eliminate terrorism, as the surrounding international circumstances, in addition to the lack of funds and equipment, render the state unable to control everything and pursue terrorist organizations.”
Exploiting Interior Crises
The relationship between the conflicting Tunisian parties and political movements is considered the main incentives for ISIS to restore its role. ISIS operations have grown when political disputes increased within the government coalition. Additionally, the disagreements between some civil streams such as the Free Constitutional Party and the Ennahda movement, gave terrorist organizations the opportunity to attract young people with money and weapons, and recruit them into the ranks of these organizations. They exploit the internal crises in Tunisia, and the void that the political elite leave for these organizations to fill, especially in regions suffering economic and social marginalization.
The operations carried out by ISIS, or those that have been thwarted, are in one way or another a reflection of the complexities in the Libyan conflict, especially as ISIS attempted to reposition itself in the Libyan hotbed and it also attempted to transfer fighters and weapons to Tunisian lands across the uncontrolled borders. Defense Minister Imad Al-Hazqi has already referred to that.
ISIS members are looking for alternative fulcrums that serve as a base for the central organization. They focus on Libya because it is one of the fragile geographical areas, and they are taking advantage of the ongoing conflict there. Libya is also very close to one of the most important ISIS states, the state of West Africa, therefore, it would be easy to transfer personnel and equipment across the southern borders of Libya to reach the ISIS focal points in Central and West Africa.
It is noteworthy that Tunisia has become one of the first countries whose citizens travelled to Syria, Yemen and Libya in the past years, and this is one of the controversial issues.
The numbers of the Tunisians who travelled to those countries are not accurate, but they are between 3500 and 6000 fighters. After fighting with terrorist organizations, those young men can return and move freely in Tunisia and conduct operations that destabilize security, and this is because this issue has many legal loopholes that hinder the work of judges due to lack of documents proving that they fought with the terrorist organizations. They rather have documents that prove their entrance to Turkey and staying there, which enables them to return to Tunisia.
Among the most prominent threats facing the state’s security and military institutions are the “sole wolf” operations that are carried out by ISIS members in a decentralized way, in which they target security and military personnel. The perpetrators of the last attack in Sousse were not listed as terrorists by the security authorities.
Despite the efforts of the Tunisian authorities to reveal the people who belong to ISIS or support its ideology, there are loopholes from which terrorists escape. The loopholes include the “dark internet,” especially the social media platform, which is called the blind spots as it cannot be fully controlled.
With its sporadic attacks ISIS is thwarting the efforts to stabilize Tunisia, and threatening Tunisian national security. It will continue recruiting people to transfer them to other countries with the support of local parties, and searching for safe havens for its members, especially the “Jund al-Khilafah” battalion, which pledged allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, the ISIS leader. Tunisian government is strengthening its contacts and cooperation with regional and international powers involved in combatting terrorism and extremism in the region.