A perfect storm of threats is brewing in Tunisia: Creeping Western intervention, Socio-economic despair and ISIS-led probing thrusts possibly foreshadowing Mosul-type push
To those in the EU – especially – who say to us here in Tunis that an “intervention” is not in the cards: Forget the recently revealed Pentagon plan presented to the President for just that purpose, set aside Hollande’s reported advocacy for this approach (to the reported chagrin of the Italian PM), and just look at this piece below from the UK’s Mirror. The creeping effects of intervention are becoming clear from Sabratha to Tunis.
My argument is that Tunisia is already ceding part of its sovereignty whether it likes it or not – via Western military partnerships AND ISIS thrusts, though diametrically opposed. If this is already the case, then the ceding should take place first and foremost on a transparent, international-Tunisian basis that focuses squarely on the real problem: Root and branch reform of the corrupt and inefficient security sector.
And from Al-Jazeera:
Authorities in Tunisia fear that “sleeper cells” could have been planted around the country waiting for orders to strike following the attack by suspected Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL) militants in the border town of Ben Guerdane, Tunisian experts told Al-Jazeera on March 9.
Security affairs expert and a former spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, Brigadier Mokhtar Ben Nasr, said the situation in Tunisia was “under control and returning to normalcy”. He added that a number of individuals who escaped the security raid in Ben Guerdane are believed to be still hiding in houses. Security forces repelled their “sporadic” attacks and clashed with them, he said.
Al-Jazeera pointed to reports putting the number of fleeing gunmen at 120. Asked about the possibility of militant attacks spreading from Ben Guerdane to other parts of Tunisia, Ben Nasr said there were fears of “disguised” militants striking and “sleeper cells”, whose members are now perceived to be “on alert because they may receive orders and carry out terror acts at any time”.
He highlighted the “state of alert” among security forces in other parts of Tunisia, namely in the mountains and areas where militants usually go out at night to get provisions. Security forces have been dealing with them by shelling their positions and chasing them, he said.
Al-Jazeera asked why authorities in Tunisia did not preempt the Ben Guerdane attack, despite having known in advance of terror plots to be carried out in the town.
Ben Nasr pointed out that the Ministry of Interior knew of a number of “plots” to target Ben Guerdane, especially after the air strikes on the Libyan city of Sabratah. Some of those arrested in Sabratah said Ben Guerdane would be a target of an attack aimed at seizing control of the town, according to Ben Nasr.
Tunisian authorities were aware of a likely attack but did not know the time and date and the individuals involved, he said. For this reason, he added, security forces have been placed on “the highest level of alert” because the assailants wanted to take them “by surprise but were surprised by the army’s quick response capacity and its ability to bring a decisive end to the battle”.
Professor of Islamic thought Hmida Nefer told Al-Jazeera that the latest developments in Libya suggest that there is “a comprehensive plan to create a quality shift” in Islamic State’s strategy in relation to Tunisia – “a copycat” plan of what the group did in Iraq.
He pointed to the “certainty” that there will be other attacks but the details – when and where and how – are not known. This requires some level of “special preparedness”, Nefer said.
Al-Jazeera asked about the “shock” that Tunisia, a country with longstanding secular norms, may feel about the fact that most of the assailants in the Ben Guerdane attack are Tunisians.
It is certainly “shocking”, Nefer said, because people think that the current political conditions are an extension of the past but the latest developments show that at the domestic and regional levels “we have entered into a new political era” that is different to the previous one. Problems of unemployment, economic marginalization that youths experienced in the past are now “fuelling” the current troubles in the new era, he noted.
In addition to the “necessary” security approach, he said, there is a need to address social and development problems in marginalized regions in Tunisia. What is happening in Ben Guerdane is similar to the attack by an armed group that seized installations in the Tunisian town of Gafsa in 1980, Nefer said.
Despite the differences between the two incidents, he said, both areas – Ben Guerdane and Gafsa – were targeted because they are perceived to be potentially “ready for insurgency against the central government”. But the incidents in Gafsa and Ben Guerdane proved that the presumed propensity for insurgency is “weak” in the two areas, Nefer said.