President of Tunisia says Terror Attack on Beach Left Country in “State of War”

Beji Caid Essebsi
Beji Caid Essebsi

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi declared a state of emergency last Saturday, saying the Islamist militant attack on a beach hotel that killed 38 foreigners, mostly Britons, had left the country “in a state of war”.

Last week’s attack, three months after the deadly Islamist assault on the Bardo museum in Tunis, has shocked the North African country emerging into a democracy following its 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising.

Tunisia’s emergency laws temporarily give the government more executive flexibility, hand the army and police more authority, and restrict certain rights, such as those dealing with public assembly and detention.

“Due to the terrorism risk, the regional context, and spread of terrorism, we have declared a state of emergency,” Mr Essebsi said in a televised address. “The continued threat we face leaves the country in a state of war, where we have to use all measures necessary.”

A Tunisian gunman, said to have been trained in an extremist camp across the border in Libya, opened fire killing foreign tourists at the resort of Sousse.

The beach massacre struck a huge blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry, prompting thousands of holidaymakers to leave and causing an estimated US$500 million (S$673 million) in losses for a sector that makes up 7 per cent of the economy. The authorities have moved to close down 80 mosques they said were operating illegally or spreading extremism, which officials say helps recruit young Tunisians to Islamist militancy.

Tunisia last had a state of emergency during the 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. That revolt followed years of upheaval between secular and Islamist parties in one of the Arab world’s most secular countries.

Tunisia has since been hailed as a model of peaceful democratic transition in the region. But it has also struggled with the rise of Islamist movements opposed to democracy and bent on violence.

More than 3,000 Tunisians have left to fight overseas in Iraq, Syria and Libya for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or other militant groups. The Tunisian authorities believe militant group Ansar al-Sharia is responsible for orchestrating the attack on the Imperial Marhaba hotel, but ISIS militants have also claimed responsibility for the hotel massacre. ISIS also claimed the Bardo attack, but the authorities linked that attack to the local Okba Ibn Nafaa brigade.

Tunisian officials say all three gunmen in the two attacks were trained at the same time in extremist camps over the border in Libya.


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