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Three Recommendations in the Aftermath of the Tunisian Terrorist Attack – Professor Hussein Solomon

April 4, 2015


Three Recommendations in the Aftermath of the Tunisian Terrorist Attack

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Policy Papers, Volume 3 (2015), Number 2 (April 2015)

On March 18th, the Bardo museum in Tunis were attacked by armed jihadis. 21 foreign tourists were killed and a further 42 were injured[1]. The choice of target was not accidental. Tourism constitutes Tunisia’s main source of foreign exchange[2]. The attack on the museum, therefore, was an attack on the heart of the country’s economy. It was also the first successful tourist attack in Tunisia since 2002’s attack of an ancient synagogue in Djerba[3].

There may, however, been another reason for Tunisia having been targeted. Writing in The Atlantic, Larry Diamond[4] notes, “Alone among the Arab States, it has achieved a remarkable level of political compromise among secular parties and the principal Islamist party, Ennahda”. Indeed, the moderate Islamists of Ennahda has one minister and three junior ministers in the coalition government[5]. The terrorist attack could also serve to attack Tunisia’s relative success at forging a democracy with compromises between secularists and moderate Islamists. From this perspective, then, the aim of the attack was to cause greater polarization within society between more liberal-minded citizens and those more religiously-oriented. Under the circumstances, the Tunisian government should clearly make a distinction between radical Islamists and moderates in their response to this atrocity. A failure to make this distinction will add to polarization and thereby give these terrorists a victory.

In some ways, this terrorist attack was entirely predictable. After all, there were previous attempts to strike at tourist attractions. Moreover in recent years – since 2012 – Tunisia’s security forces suffered more than 60 casualties as a result of ambushes laid by jihadis[6]. More recently, the Tunisian government estimates that of the 3,000 young people who have left the country to fight with jihadis in Iraq, Libya and Syria, 500 have returned to the country clearly posing a latent security threat[7]. Most of these youth who were recruited was on account of the poor economic prospects at home[8]. This, then, constitutes the second recommendation to the Tunisian authorities. Whilst utilizing its security forces to hunt down the attackers, the developmental response to terrorism must not be overlooked. More specifically, the government with international partners like the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should focus on job creation for the youth.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the Bardo museum by the two gunmen, Tunisian authorities moved quickly and arrested scores involved in the planning of the massacre. In addition several members of the group who claimed responsibility for the attack – the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade – as well as its head, Lokmane Abou Sakhr, were killed by Tunisian security forces[9]. The government also showed resolve by dismissing six police commanders, including Tunis’ police chief for the security lapses which made this attack possible[10]. This was a clear signal for Tunisia’s security apparatus that they must get their act together or be held personally liable for such security failures. In an effort to prevent recruitment to radical causes, Prime Minister Habib Essid also announced a crackdown on those websites promoting terrorism[11].

Whilst, all these moves are positive, the regional dimensions of the terrorist threat posed to Tunisia seems to be neglected. This regional dimension constitutes the third recommendation. Lokman Abou Sakr was Algerian. The two gunmen responsible for the attack were trained in Libya and two Moroccans were also involved in the attack[12]. Jihadis across North Africa are cooperating. It is time for the governments of the region to strengthen their security co-operation. Tunisia cannot be at peace with itself, if the region is on fire.



[1] Carlotta Gall, “Official Says that Commander of Group That Massacred 21 in Tunisia Is Dead,” The New York Times, 19 March 2015. Internet: Date accessed: 2 April 2015.

[2] Carlotta Gall, “Tunisian Museum Attack Leads to Firing of Chiefs,” The New York Times, 23 March 2015. Internet: Date accessed: 2 April 2015.

[3] “Terror at the Bardo,” The Economist. 21-27 March 2015, p. 30.

[4] Quoted in Adam Chandler, “Tunisia After the Museum Attack,” The Atlantic. 1 April 2015. Internet: Date accessed: 1 April 2015.

[5] Eileen Byrne and Chris Stephen, “Tunisian and French presidents attend unity rally after Tunis museum attack,” The Guardian, 29 March 2015. Internet: Date accessed: 1 April 2015.

[6] “Terror at the Bardo,” op. cit., p. 30.

[7] Jamey Keaten and Paul Schemm, “Islamic State claims responsibility for Tunisia attack,” Associated Press. 30 March 2015. Internet: Date accessed: 1 April 2015.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Chandler, op. cit.

[10] “Tunisian Museum Attack Leads to Firing of Chiefs,” op.cit.

[11] Keaton and Schemm, op. cit.

[12] “Official Says that Commander of Group That Massacred 21 in Tunisia is Dead,” op. cit.

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