Terrorism strikes again in Tunisia, amid political crisis
TUNIS - A Tunisian National Guard officer was killed and another wounded in a terrorist attack at the Akouda crossing near the Kantaoui district in the coastal town of Sousse, the country’s interior ministry said Sunday. The three assailants were killed after they rammed their vehicle into security officers before attacking them with knives, he said.
The terrorist operation early Sunday morning raised questions about its goals at a time when the country faces a political controversy over its newly-formed government, and amid an open struggle between President Kais Saied and the Islamist Ennahda Movement.
The attack also raised questions about the symbolism of its target, Sousse, the hometown of the new interior minister and the site of a deadly terrorist attack in 2015.
Sunday’s attack occurred days after parliament approved the new government headed by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, who appointed as interior minister Tawfik Charfeddine, a Sousse lawyer who is considered to be close to Saied.
Tunisian National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli said: “A security patrol including two National Guard members was attacked by terrorists with knives in the city centre of Sousse” and that “one of the guardsmen is dead and the second is in hospital.”
Iman Ben Hamida, a spokeswoman for the Sousse 2 court of the first instance, said that four people who were driving a four-by-four vehicle were involved in the attack.
Reactions to the incident varied, with a number of politicians denouncing it and others calling for terrorists to be tried more quickly for their crimes.
Mechichi described terrorists as “microbes” and said the attack was their attempt to “send messages saying that they exist, but this time they sent their messages to the wrong address as proven by the elimination of the assailants in a few minutes.”
“The microbes should be afraid of the Tunisians, who should not be wary of them as there are lions protecting the homeland,” said Mechichi from the site of the attack.
Saied, for his part, described the attackers as “madmen who do not understand anything.”
“Those who asked them to carry out this attack must be held accountable, and they will bear that responsibility before God, the people and history,” he added during his visit to the site of the attack.
Analysts have linked the terrorist attack to Turkey’s continued dispatching of Syrian and other Arab mercenaries to Libya.
“It is clear that the attack has political goals as it aims to further confuse the political scene in Tunisia,” Walid Loukini, a judge and former interior minister spokesman, told The Arab Weekly.
“We must take into account as well that it targeted the home-town of the minister of interior, so it seems the terrorists were sending messages saying that they are attempting to disrupt the work of security agencies and anti-terrorism efforts,” he added.
He also linked the attack to “regional developments which are to the benefit of the terrorist groups.”
He said that “there are at least 800 Tunisian terrorists in Libya. Today, North Africa has become a base of operations for terrorists… and Tunisia is a target for terrorism sponsors who want to disrupt the country’s political track,” referring to mercenaries dispatched by Turkey to Libya, including Tunisian terror suspects.
While there has so far been no claim of responsibility for the attack, experts have speculated that the Al-Furqan cell, which previously pledged allegiance to the ISIS, may be behind the attack. The cell has previously targeted Sousse, which is an important tourism destination in the country.
“We say that terrorism has had its wings clipped, but every time we wake up to a new terrorist strike. Today, the terrorists carry out their attacks with unconcealed faces … all forces must adopt a unified and clear position towards these operations,” Loukini told The Arab Weekly.
“Terrorism has become bare-faced … The next stage will be difficult … the living forces and civil society must mobilise in the face of terrorism,” he added.
The attack, which coincided with a severe political crisis in which Tunisia faces a thinly-veiled conflict between Saied and Ennahda, has brought to the fore demands for the speedy trial of terrorists.
“Condemnation, threats and intimidation are of no use today. Where are the trials and the implementation of sentences handed down against the perpetrators of terrorism and their accomplices?” said Mustapha Ben Ahmed, an MP for the Tahya Tounes party.
Loukini said: “Today there are two lines in Tunisia, a national line represented by the president of the republic, which defends the territorial integrity of Tunisia and the higher interests of the country and the civic state of the state. There are other lines that have other pragmatic interests.. but everyone’s efforts must be devoted to confronting terrorism.”
Tunisia is living in the throes of a stifling political crisis after the conflict between Saied and Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, who also heads parliament, came to light recently.
Saied’s recent statements reflected the imminence of the crisis. The president has repeatedly stressed that “there are those who conspire against the security of the country and that of Tunisians” and complained of being targeted by unidentified parties.
On Sunday, Saied said: “Terrorist and criminal operations will not unsettle Tunisian men and women, and the state will not fall … Whoever attempted to set the stage for new political situations through such operations is delusional, because nothing is hidden from the people anymore.”
Analysts believe that the president hinted through his statements at the possibility of political parties being behind the terrorist operation, either to further confuse the political scene or to exert pressure with the aim of reaching understandings that end the tension, including understandings between him and Ennahda and its allies.
* Sghaier El-Hidri is a Tunisian reporter.