IS fails to establish emirate in Tunisia

Leaked information notes that the Islamic State attacks in Ben Guerdane were designed to establish an emirate, impose Sharia law and enjoy the population's support.

al-monitor Soldiers patrol after the March 7 attack by Islamic State militants on army and police barracks in the town of Ben Guerdane, Tunisia, near the Libyan border, March 8, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi.

Topics covered

terrorist attacks, terrorism, sharia, islamic state, isis

Mar 17, 2016

Terrorist group members arrested in the attack in Ben Guerdane on March 7 confessed that they had planned to overwhelm the authorities while trying to achieve the establishment of an Islamic emirate, the imposition of Sharia law and gain support from sleeper cells and the population there. 

Although the investigation is ongoing, information was leaked on how the attack was carried out by terrorists March 7, and their other plans for the city. The plans have fallen apart. Twenty-four hours after their detention, we managed to obtain information from unofficial sources close to the investigation, and other residents.

The terrorists, who were trained for months in Sabratha and Sirte, arrived in Tunisia a few days ago and seemed familiar with the city and its habits. At dawn, they gave a signal through mosque loudspeakers throughout the city.

According to the weekly newspaper Akher Khabar, which is known for shedding light on this type of news and for its reliable sources in the Interior Ministry, 50 terrorists, divided into three groups, carried out the attack. The first group was tasked with attacking the gendarmerie barracks, the second was charged with attacking the army barracks and the third was responsible for informing the public.

Witnesses said that the last group was equipped with loudspeakers to announce to residents that the city had been seized by the Islamic State (IS) and would be governed by “the law of God.” They also told people that only members of the national forces and state representatives would be targeted.

The terrorists thought they would gain the people’s full support after these announcements, believing the people would willingly accept the rule of Islamic Sharia law. In wake of the attack, they addressed the city’s smugglers, saying that they could work in peace since the customs officers and state representatives were no longer present.

"The assassinations of a customs officer, two employees and members of the counterterrorism unit were part of the implementation of this plan of theirs,” said Mabrouk Kourchid, a local lawyer, after having collected direct testimonies.

The terrorists believed they could take advantage with the element of surprise, but in something like a boomerang effect, the people did not join in their plan. In fact, they chased the group away with stones. It was during this chase that two citizens were shot dead.

In the meantime, on March 7 at dawn, the group tasked with attacking the army barracks was shocked at the soldiers’ defensive force. Akher Khabar said, “Divided into subgroups, terrorists surrounded the barracks, thinking that they would take advantage of the element of surprise and the firearms they carried. They were also expecting reinforcements from sleeper cells in the city.” It seems that the plan would have worked perfectly in some parts of Iraq, Syria and Libya. But the Tunisian citadel was stronger and the soldiers were prepared for the attack.

Business News learned that intelligence agencies had warned local brigades against a potential attack. Last week’s terrorist attacks in the same city were only a beginning. The intelligence data allowed soldiers to be psychologically and militarily prepared for a potential attack, which undermined the terrorists' element of surprise. Lacking local support and sleeper cells, and failing to take advantage of the expected element of surprise, the terrorists found themselves in a critical situation.

Security forces received reinforcements, which quickly changed the situation; although the terrorists initially surrounded the barracks, they soon found themselves surrounded.

According to the information we obtained, the terrorists were planning to enter the barracks and fly the black flag of IS. It is the same flag that was to be hung in the various parts of the city, once its population was tamed and convinced by the cause of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

According to the investigations, other similar attacks, but on a smaller scale, were planned in several neighboring locations, allegedly to thwart the security forces' efforts to regain control of Ben Guerdane. These attacks were to be carried out by reinforcements sent from Libya. The highlight would have been an attack on an urban area to confuse the central government in Tunis and draw its attention away from Ben Guerdane. This would give IS time to take root and familiarize the population with its new rulers.

The ultimate goal, just like in Syria and Iraq, is to establish emirates in different Tunisian areas bordering Libya. Such emirates would rely on smuggling and the logistical support by the terrorists scattered across the wild no-man's land areas between the two countries.

With the exception of the attack against the army barracks and the tour across the city, none of this was carried out. The immediate closure of the border and the US attack in Sabrath a few weeks ago had scuppered these plans.

This analysis was made based on leaked information from the initial investigation. More details will certainly be made available in the coming days. Until then, we shall wait for the authorities to provide an official statement on this failed attempt by IS to transform a Tunisian city into an Islamic emirate.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Raouf Ben Hédi and Mohamed Garoui