Following the fall of the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali three years ago, Tunisia started grappling with the threat of terrorism, which keeps spreading and developing in a persistent manner. Within a short period of time, the threat has become more real, while terrorist operations are on the rise. In this context, some have highlighted the laxity of the troika government, which made the situation increasingly inextricable. In light of the recent developments, the contours of a clear national strategy against terrorism are emerging.
“Due to the lack of experience in this area, Tunisia was not prepared to deal with terrorism, especially in light of the decay that hit the state after the revolution, but also because of the regional situation that is marked by instability, particularly in Libya and Syria. This reality has had a direct impact on the Tunisian situation,” said Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa in an interview published on June 17.
This statement sums up the challenges faced by Tunisia in its fight against an ever-increasing phenomenon and its quest to provide the necessary means to contain it. The terrorist threat is persistent and very real, and it is primarily targeting the military and security institutions. The risk of having the terrorist groups cross the limit by attacking civilians, economic interests and political stability in Tunisia is persistent.
In this regard, Jomaa stressed that his government was determined to implement the recently announced principle of a joint fight against terrorism. Also, he felt that the coordination between the various security agencies has marked a noticeable improvement. He said, “Despite the painful blows that it [terrorism] dealt to our security forces and soldiers, we reorganized ourselves and managed to regain the initiative and deal qualitative blows to terrorists.”
The willingness of the government to establish more effective mechanisms to combat the scourge of terrorism indicates the need to establish a diagnosis of the reality of terrorism in Tunisia and an overall strategy to contain it. Thus, the Committee for Human Rights and Foreign Relations in the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) examined on June 11 the proposals of the draft law on the fight against terrorism and money laundering. Deputy chairwoman of the committee, Fatma Gharbi, said it was necessary to review the legislation and proceed to a hearing of experts in this field.
On the other hand, the National Trade Union of Tunisian security forces called during a conference on “safe institution and judiciary power,” for the adoption of a new law on terrorism, thus allowing the security forces to fulfill their role without hindrance.
There are increasing calls for a clear strategy defining the principles of the fight against terrorism. Thus, civil society and human rights activists have mobilized via their associations to unite their expertise in this area. By announcing the creation of the National Observatory for the Fight against Terrorism and Organized Crime at a conference held June 16, 2014, the organization has established a counterterrorism strategy, a copy of which would be submitted to the government.
The relief association for Tunisians abroad estimated that it was of utmost importance to establish bodies tasked with stopping the expansion of fundamentalist doctrines in Tunisian society. It stated that serious investigations have been conducted and showed a gradual change in the Tunisian mentality, which it believes emanates from the propagation of extremist thoughts.
As for the Tunisian jihadists returning from Syria, the head of the relief association, Badis Koubakji, advocated the establishment of a rehabilitation center for young people aimed at assisting and separating them from common criminal prisoners. He said that indoctrination is taking place in the very heart of Tunisian prisons, which constitutes yet another danger. Therefore, he called for the prevention of indoctrination in detention centers. Furthermore, the activist was outraged at the approach of the Tunisian authorities to jihad in Syria, which is causing certain normalization of the phenomenon of terrorism in Tunisian society. In this regard, Koubakji mentioned overruns that ought to be avoided in the future, such as the neglect of the complicity of families or the release of some detainees.
For his part, the president of the observatory, Hatem Yahyaoui, said that the observatory would be responsible for dealing with cases related to organized crime, arms trafficking and money laundering through a comprehensive and detailed strategy on the short- and medium-term. This strategy, which was communicated to the government, will be applied, particularly on the educational, social and cultural planes.
Yahyaoui insisted that it was necessary to create an independent information body tasked with issuing secure and verified information in real time to all security units involved in counterterrorism. He also stressed the need to control the funding and donation sources of associations that proliferated after the revolution.
Yahyaoui said terrorist activities were supported by money laundering operations, and said that it was fundamental to review the Customs Code, as amended by the ANC, which facilitates the introduction of money by foreign companies. Limiting the extent of smuggling, which represents the other face of terrorism, is also to be taken into account in the overall strategy to fight against this scourge.
In summary, a rigorous strategy against terrorism is to be urgently applied in an increasingly alarming national and regional context. Thus, the progress made so far in the fight against terrorism needs to be diagnosed and the contours of this strategy defined. Moreover, structures and mechanisms ought to be created to curb this phenomenon.
However, the fight against terrorism should not be limited to political and security officials as the contribution of civil society and media is needed for the information and accountability of society.
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