Tunisia Islamist chief says security not enough to defeat terrorism

Friday 18/03/2016
According to Ghannouchi, security approach could even complicate problem

TUNIS - The head of Tunisia's main Islamist party Rached Ghannouchi said Tuesday that military force and security measures alone are not enough to fight violent extremism.

"The fight against terrorism must not be limited to the military and security approach, which could even complicate the problem in the short and long run," the 74-year-old Ghannouchi told an audience at the Al-Jazeera Forum in Doha.

Combating extremism must also have "a political dimension by strengthening democracy, the economy, and development" to stem unemployment, especially among young people, he said.

Ghannouchi said his country was tackling extremism, despite a rise in jihadist attacks since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

"We have defeated dictatorship in Tunisia and we hope we are on our way towards defeating terrorism," he said.

Ghannouchi also rejected any link between extremism and religion, saying Islam is "unrelated to terrorism".

He was speaking before the full extent of Tuesday's attacks on the Brussels airport and metro, which together claimed more than 30 lives, was known.

Ghannouchi's Ennahda party was the dominant political force in Tunisia following the revolution but its influence has since waned.

The two-day conference in Doha organised by the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera channel is being held to discuss current political struggles in the Middle East.

Tunisia on Tuesday extended by three months a state of emergency imposed after a November suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group killed 12 presidential guards.

President Beji Caid Essebsi "has decided after consultations... to extend the state of emergency for a period of three months from March 23," his office said in a statement that came two weeks after another attack blamed on jihadists near the border with Libya.

This month's attack on police and army posts in the town of Ben Guerdane left seven civilians and 13 security personnel dead. Forty-nine jihadists have been killed by security forces in clashes immediately following the attacks and in subsequent raids.

The North African country has suffered from a wave of jihadist attacks in recent years, as it has struggled to curb a rise in extremism since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Last year ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks on the Bardo museum in Tunis and a popular resort hotel that killed 59 tourists in total, as well as the suicide bombing that killed the presidential guards.

The state of emergency has been repeatedly extended since November. The last extension, on February 22, was for a period of one month.

Tunisia was Tuesday hosting talks with other countries neighbouring Libya on the threat posed by the growing ISIS presence in the lawless North African nation.