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ISIS targeting Tunisia: “More than terrorism,” says former minister

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IMD Professor Tawfik Jelassi on the recent Ben Gardane takeover attempt.


ISIS recently launched an armed attack on the Tunisian town of Ben Gardane, near the country’s border with Libya.

IMD Professor of Strategy and Technology Management, Tawfik Jelassi was the Tunisian Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Information & Communication Technologies during a transitional technocratic government in 2014-2015 following the Arab Spring revolution in the country.

Professor Jelassi discusses the significance of the recent attack.

Were you surprised by the attack on Ben Gardane?

Absolutely. 2015 was a bloody year for Tunisia. We had three major attacks: on the Bardo national museum in March, on a major hotel in Sousse in June, and on the presidential guard in Tunis 100 meters from the interior ministry in November.

The latest attack of March 7th, 2016 can’t really be classified as being just a terrorist act. It was actually an attempt to take control of a Tunisian city to establish an outpost for ISIS in the country! This is unprecedented and deeply troubling.

Does this mean Tunisia isn’t in control of security in that border region?

Tunisia is still on top of the issue. Luckily, the security forces were able to defend the city from the attack. There were around 50 casualties among the terrorists who were suspected to number over 100. But they managed to assassinate some members of the security forces at home, which means they had cooperation from inside Tunisia, possibly dormant ISIS cells that were activated for the attack. All of the identified ISIS casualties so far have turned out to be Tunisians. This raises a lot of questions about what is ahead. Are there more dormant terrorist cells in the country? Will there be other ISIS attempts to take territorial control?

What should the EU do?

Tunisia was already destabilized by the insecurity in Libya. The latest attack in a symptom of problems that go beyond its borders and concern the entire international community. Tunisia is often forgotten until there is a terrorist attack, but it has very strong ties to Europe. The international community has recognized Tunisia by granting the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian Quartet that facilitated our National Dialogue in the fall of 2013.But beyond that there hasn’t been much support for Tunisia, the “Democracy Start-up”. The country was the only ray of hope that came out of the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, but now the country faces economic problems that need to be addressed and major security challenges as well.
The EU and the international community at large are in a position to help Tunisia on the security, economic and social levels.

What can be done by the EU for Tunisia’s security?

Tunisia needs security equipment: it lacks advanced attack helicopters, night vision military capabilities and more to face the threat that the radical groups pose to the country. It would benefit from more intelligence sharing as well. There have been some partial intelligence failures, and Tunisia is sometimes in a reactive mode. Becoming more proactive would help combat the terrorist threat more effectively.

On the economic side, certain regions are lagging behind; they don’t have sufficient factories or development projects that can create new job opportunities for the unemployed youth. If nothing is done, and if there is no foreign investment, unemployment will continue to rise, purchasing power will keep dropping and social problems will grow.

At the G8 summit of 2011, several billion dollars were pledged to Tunisia but the country has yet to receive any of it. Tunisia’s problems are well known but it hasn’t gotten assistance from its allies in the West. We need a Marshall Plan for Tunisia. We can’t forget that Tunisia is the last buffer zone for Europe against the terrorist threat that is growing in the Middle East and North Africa. If this area becomes completely unstable, southern Europe will have a lot more to worry about.

Read more on http://www.imd.org/news/Ben-Gardane-attacks.cfm



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