Africa

Sousse attack: Tunisia faces major terror threat, one year on

Tourist police officers patrol the beach in Hammamet, Tunisia, Jun18 Image copyright REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Tunisian security forces are patrolling tourist spots and a state of emergency is still in place, one year after a gunman opened fire on a beach, killing 38 tourists - 30 of them British.

The Sousse attack on 26 June was claimed by so-called Islamic State.

But Tunisia looks unlikely to overcome the threat posed by its domestic jihadists anytime soon.

Security boosted

An additional 1,500 guards are boosting security at beaches and festivals this summer. The move has been coordinated with leading hotel chains.

The government has allocated 550 million dinars ($255 million) in this year's budget to combating terrorism, and the authorities say 1,400 suspected militants were arrested between January and April.

The country has also tried to impose controls at hundreds of mosques after it emerged they had been used to preach radical views. The Sousse gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui, is reported to have frequented one of them.

Homegrown threat

Despite these efforts, Tunisia has suffered major terrorist incidents since Sousse.

Last November, an attack targeted a bus carrying members of the presidential guard in Tunis, just 200 metres from the Interior Ministry, killing 12 guards and prompting the authorities to declare a state of emergency.

In May this year, four National Guards were killed by a suicide bomber in Tataouine Governorate.

But an attack in March most clearly highlighted the home-grown nature of Tunisia's terror threat.

Nearly 40 militants were killed in clashes with security forces after they crossed from Libya and attacked the town of Ben Guerdane.

It was not just a spillover of the Libyan crisis. Most of the fighters were Tunisian nationals who had been trained in Libya before returning to stage an attack in their home country.

Image copyright AFP / FETHI BELAID
Image caption Since the attack the Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the country

Days before the attack, nearly 50 militants were killed in a US air strike on IS fighters in the Libyan city of Sabratha. Again, most of them were Tunisian.

This comes as little surprise. Tunisians have been associated with jihadist activity in Libya for the last few years. Militants have attended training camps there, reportedly including the Sousse gunman.

Studies indicate that Tunisians make up the highest proportion of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq.

Moreover, suspected jihadist cells are discovered with alarming regularity across Tunisia.

Interior Minister Hadi Majdoub has told national TV that Tunisia is "still fighting" terrorism and the problem is not confined to the fasting month of Ramadan, when the Sousse attack took place.

Militancy on several fronts

Following the 2011 revolution, Tunisia has faced a persistent militant threat on several fronts.

The attack on the presidential guards, the Sousse attack and, before them, a major assault on the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 24 people were all claimed by IS.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption IS claimed last year's attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 24 people

Meanwhile, security forces are struggling to contain attacks by militants entrenched in the western Chaambi Mountains.

These are members of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, which is allied to IS rival Al-Qaeda, and they primarily target the army using landmines.

As part of its security measures, Tunisia has erected a barrier along the border with Libya, to try to protect itself from the chaos and lawlessness there.

But this defence will do little to address the threat that exists within Tunisia's borders.

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