Armed groups wage psychological war in Tunisia

Article Summary
The attack by armed groups on the house of the Tunisian interior minister, which led to the killing of four security officers on site, sheds light on the gaps within the security and military institutions.

At 11:42 p.m. on May 27, and within a span of 45 minutes, an armed terrorist group seized part of the Ezzouhour neighborhood. Heroic to the last breath, the four police officers responsible for the security of the home of the minister of interior lost their lives during this incident. Without adequate means of defense, and especially in the absence of reinforcements and medical supplies, the security forces paid a heavy price.

Ridha Chebbi, Ali Ghodhbani, Naifer Ayadi and Ridha Ajili bravely died with their boots on. The last two were 20 and 21 years old. They were newly recruited and thrown into the lion’s den. The amateurism of the command is unparalleled. The number of terrorist attackers ranged from 15 to 20 members who claimed this attack in the name of the so-called “Islamic State.” However, we know well that these generic names mean nothing; in fact, they are Wahhabis affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or with Ansar al-Sharia, which unfortunately amounts to the same thing.

A well-studied plan of attack

It is almost certain that the attackers knew that the minister was not at home. Only his wife and children live there, but they did not attack them. They only attacked law enforcement officers. The most tragic thing is that the targeted home of the interior minister is located a few meters from the district of the National Guard. Despite gunfire being heard for more than 40 minutes, according to witnesses, no reinforcements came to the rescue of the four police officers. Moreover, the terrorists had prepared a counter-plan that could have been more heinous and cruel in many respects, since terrorists lurked at the street corner with a rocket launcher capable of destroying any security forces vehicle heading towards the home of the interior minister. The lack of security was broad in this part of the district. The terrorists aimed, through this attack, to break the morale of our security forces and say, clearly, “we can strike whenever and wherever we want.” The attackers were hooded and drove a pickup truck that they had stolen from civilians at the foot of the Selloum mountain (1,314 meters [4,311 feet]), less than 10 kilometers [six miles] from the city of Kasserine.

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Who are these terrorists?

According to historian Alaya Allani, the terrorist operation was executed by a new group calling itself the Islamic State, similar to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). But this is probably a branch in the Maghreb, which would be something new. This small group claimed the attack, and this was broadcasted only once and was not subsequently repeated. It is likely, according to the investigations of experts, that this organization does not truly exist and that the use of this denomination is intended to introduce error into the investigations; a sham, to be honest. The real criminals who committed this terrorist attack are none other than al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, with its subsidiary the Uqba Ibn Nafi brigade. What further consolidates this assumption is that 10 days ago, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and Tunisia announced their unification. We know that Abu Iyadh, the most-wanted terrorist in Tunisia, took an oath of allegiance to the head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Algerian national Droukdel, who heads operations in North Africa under the umbrella of the brigade called Uqbah Ibn Nafi. In terms of psychological propaganda, these names of brigades and terrorist groups have one objective, which is to perpetrate terror and fear to lead the enemy into believing in the existence of a large hidden army. Psychological weakening of the opponent first starts by making him believe that he is up against a disproportionate force. Strangling and spraying police officers with bullets and showing determination by perpetrating suicide bomber operations are the usual tactics of these terrorist groups.

The security forces are almost certain that the terrorists who attacked the home of the minister of the interior are the same people who murdered eight soldiers in Chaambi in July 2013. Sofiène Sliti, official spokesperson of the Court of First Instance of Tunis, confirmed that Algerian terrorists were part of the armed group that attacked the home of the minister of interior in Kasserine on June 10. According to preliminary investigations, the group of attackers, which consisted of 15 to 20 masked and armed members, is the same group that had slain eight Tunisian soldiers last July and planted landmines in the mountain during terrorist operations in Kasserine. An eyewitness, part of the three men from whom the terrorists had stolen the car to be used in the operation in Kasserine, said the armed individuals communicated by SMS.

Raids and arrests in Kasserine

Two brothers suspected of being involved in the attack were arrested on June 11. Another raid by security forces was conducted at the home of a third suspected person. Anti-terrorist squads raided several neighborhoods in the city of Kasserine, particularly in the Ezzouhour neighborhood, looking for suspects. The operation led to the arrest of five individuals for their questioning. There is a deep conviction that the attack against the home of the minister of the interior has strongly mobilized members from sleeper cells housed inside these neighborhoods.

Positions and official statements following the terrorist act

The official spokesman of the ministry of interior, Mohamed Ali Aroui, announced at a press conference in Kasserine following the terrorist operation the opening of an investigation into the circumstances of the intervention of security officers, who were slow to react, according to eyewitnesses.

Over a month ago, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said, “The threat is no longer the same as it was in the past few months. In the past, we were suffering in the battle. The groups infiltrated some urban areas ... now, we are making progress and bringing them out of their strongholds.”

However, the reply of these terrorist groups came to change this conviction and to prove that Kasserine has been selected bas the hub to conduct the bloodiest acts against our security forces and national army.

On May 28, Jomaa reacted to the terrorist attack in Kasserine and declared that “this attack is a reply by terrorists to the preventive operation conducted two days earlier in Medenine.”

For its part, the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts (UTICA) has strongly condemned the criminal attack that targeted law enforcement members.

The Tunisian General Labour Union has strongly reacted to the attack and expressed its astonishment that the long awaited project to hold a “national congress for the fight against terrorism” has not been not launched yet.

Blatant weaknesses and “dismissals” are underway

Faced with this attack that took place in the fief of the fight against terrorism, the General Union of the National Guard demanded that “the composition of the security hierarchy is changed.” In Kasserine, the agents of the intervention units removed the district chief from service because of his passivity, which claimed the lives of four police officers who had no experience in dealing with this type of situation and attack. The already-taken preventive measures do not respond to the requirements of a high-level security strategy. For their parts, the unions said that they had mentioned these flaws since February, yet no action was taken. A protest march was organized by the union of Internal Security Forces and well attended on Thursday, May 29 and Friday, May 30 in Kasserine. It demanded that the officers receive the necessary equipment to carry out their missions. The General Union of the National Guard has demanded that an investigation be conducted into the security flaws that the attack has exposed.

The main question is how groups, armed to the teeth, can conduct attacks in the middle of the city for so long without being bothered.

Where is the coordination between the different security services, of which we regularly hear? Why was the army, which is equipped with the appropriate means and overtrained men, unable to intervene? The surprising point in this terrorist incident is the official thesis that terrorists came down the Selloum mountain, which is located 10 km away from Kasserine, to conduct the attack, and then returned to the same mountain. This thesis is implausible. What are the forces tasked with combing the Chaambi region and neighboring areas doing?

The 24 terrorists were probably hiding among the population, and the secret services have struggled to determine where they are so far.

Unlikely assumptions

The terrorist attack has demonstrated once again some major loopholes. How is it that, in an area of prime importance in the fight against terrorism and where most of our security forces are mobilized, such an attack was carried out without provoking immediate reaction?

Moreover, it must be noted that thousands of our soldiers were positioned a few meters from the crime scene and there was no coordination to deal with such attacks.

These questions torment every Tunisian who does not wish to see his/her children die as a result of the lack of drastic measures that needed to be imposed in light of this situation. It should be also noted that this area was under surveillance for a year. Was it a lax security situation or a lack of vigilance? Some have even suggested that there might have been internal accomplices.

When will be able to efficiently deal with loopholes and put an end to this amateur performance?

The government has declared new “preventive measures” that are being kept secret. Has it taken major strategic decisions? It has been a month since we have heard talking of a “structure to fight against terrorism.” The government keeps repeating the same thing [to no avail]. In the absence of such a structure, it is impossible to provide the country with an overall strategic vision on the security level. Establishing a security institution would be the best defense against all threats that reach our country.

However, the matter is not totally related to security. Developed countries, such as the US and France, have founded such institutions and managed to find solutions to many problems similar to ours. Moreover, when will the government be able to start a genuine national debate on terrorism, smuggling and all the issues related to our national security?

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Found in: tunisian military, tunisian islamists, terrorist organizations, terrorist attacks, terrorism, islam, attack, al-qaeda
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