A terrorist attack on tourists visiting a Tunis museum killed 23 people, mainly Europeans, in the worst such attack in Tunisia in 13 years. At least 40 more were wounded in the attack, which has the newly liberated North African nation on edge, thanks in part to the terror networks openly operating in the failed state of Libya directly to the east. In response, Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi went on national television to declare a “merciless war on terrorism,” and that the “savage minorities” would be fought “to our last breath”:
Tunisia’s health minister says the death toll in a dramatic museum attack has risen to 23 people, including 18 foreign tourists.
Said Aidi said Thursday that five Tunisians were killed, including the two gunmen. Authorities are searching for two or three other possible accomplices. He said several victims were brought in without identity documents.
The merciless war line will no doubt play well, but questions have already been raised about just how effective Tunisian security forces have been. At least one of the attackers had been known to its security group, Prime Minister Habib Essid admitted earlier today:
Prime Minister Habib Essid on Thursday identified two men who he said were behind the attack as Yassine Labidi and Saber Khachnaoui.
Labidi was “known to the security services, he was flagged and monitored,” Essid told French radio station RTL. But he added that the man wasn’t known or being followed for anything special.
“We are in the process of further investigation. We cannot say which organization they belong to,” Essid added.
On Wednesday, Essid had said that as many as three other suspects linked to the attack were still at large. But he didn’t address that point in the RTL interview Thursday. It remained unclear what role the three other suspects might have played in the attack.
An Interior Ministry spokesman later said that the attackers were Islamists, which for most Westerners wouldn’t come as a surprise. For Tunisians, this will be a very critical point. After Ben Ali was forced out of office in a popular uprising, Tunisia held free elections, and Islamists took control of the government. It became clear early on that Tunisians, who have always leaned more West-ward than other nations in North Africa, was balking at their ideas of jurisprudence, even though Tunisia’s Islamists were more moderate than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Islamists resigned and a new government was peacefully formed, but an Islamist attack might force Tunisia’s Islamists even more to the margins — especially if it turns out to be of the home-grown variety.
However, there are plenty of other ways that these attackers could have come to Tunis, which is a small slice of North Africa wedged between two large and unstable countries. To the east and south is Libya, the failed state created by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and their NATO allies in 2011. To the west and south is Algeria, only somewhat more cohesive. Both have Islamist terror networks operating openly, carrying out operations, and recruiting and training for even more. Further to the south are Mali and Chad, both of which have been destabilized by Islamic extremists, the former as a direct result of the NATO intervention in Libya.
Tunisia will have to fight a “merciless war” if it expects to survive in this region. Can it do so while maintaining its transition to multiparty democracy? The Wall Street Journal asks that question today:
Wednesday’s attack changes everything. Already, people are wondering why the government was not more vigilant and why their country has become a recruiting ground for Islamic State and other extremist groups. Government and private estimates are that as many as 3,000 Tunisians have flocked to the battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria. The same studies indicate that Tunisia outranks Saudi Arabia and Jordan in producing foreign fighters–and that doesn’t include the 9,000 that the interior minister said last fall the Tunisian government had thwarted from traveling to Syria. According to SITE Intelligence Group, which follows extremist and jihadi organizations, ISIS-linked Twitter accounts are putting out “calls for Tunisians to ‘follow their brothers.’ ” A segment of Tunisia’s population is ready to heed the call. …
Most recruits are younger than 30, are they are attracted to the mantra of jihad for more than ideological reasons. James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, warned in the 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment that Tunisia, with “one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world,” will continue to “struggle to meet public expectations.”
Combine poverty and unemployment with this steady pool of disaffected jihadi-sympathizers, and a dark, deadly storm is brewing. The only thing that’s certain now is that if the Western world and Persian Gulf states do not help Tunisia tackle its unemployment and the sociological malaise of the younger generation, things there will grow worse before there is any hope of improvement. Looked at another way: The world should not allow the one success story of the Arab Spring to die.
Perhaps they should be careful for what they wish. The “world,” meaning Obama, Clinton, and NATO, created the conditions for its demise. They don’t seem keen on fixing what they broke by putting boots on the ground to bolster the putative government in Libya or to have Egypt do it either, so the momentum seems to be swinging toward a total loss of North Africa over the near future.