Tunisians emphasise security measures after Sousse attack
London - Senior Tunisian officials visited London to offer their condolences for the deaths of 30 Britons killed in the June 26th terrorist attack on the beach resort of Sousse and to try to persuade the British government to lift its advice against travelling to the North African country after new security measures were put in place.
The speaker of the Tunisian parliament, as well as the ministers for Transport and Tourism, had a series of meetings with Britain’s Foreign Office and the speaker of the House of Commons. A member of the Tunisian delegation said no reassessment of Britain’s position is expected before the autumn.
Britain’s Foreign Office warned against travel to Tunisia after a gunman linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) massacred 38 people at the Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse. Thirty of the victims were British nationals.
The Sousse attack came three months after 20 foreign tourists and two Tunisians were murdered in an attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, an assault also claimed by ISIS.
That the Sousse attack could occur so soon after the Bardo killings raised questions inside Britain as to why no adequate security precautions were taken at the Sousse beach resorts and why the British Foreign Office had not warned against travel to Tunisia sooner.
The Tunisian delegation was reportedly informed by British officials that the UK advice against all but essential travel to Tunisia is likely to remain in place until a wide-ranging review of the situation there is undertaken this autumn.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said, however, that if the proper measures were taken by Tunisian authorities a change of advice is possible “within weeks”.
Members of the Tunisian delegation were keen to impress upon their hosts that security in Tunisia had improved in the wake of the Sousse attack.
“The government has taken all measures in order to reassert the security of all visitors,” said Mohamed Ennaceur, speaker of the Tunisian parliament. “We are here to reassure visitors that Tunisia will continue to be a country of peace and of security.”
The importance of Tunisia remaining a stable and successful example to other Arab states was also stressed by the delegation. Tourism represents 7% of Tunisia’s gross domestic product and employs 400,000 people from a population of 11 million, and there is concern in both Tunisia and Britain that the Sousse assault could damage an economy already struggling to recover from the convulsions of the “Arab spring”.
“At stake is democracy in the Arab and Muslim world,” said Tunisian Transport Minister Mahmoud Ben Romdhane. “In this region you have only two models: the Daesh model and, in front of this model, the Tunisian model… My hope and my feeling is that the oldest democracy, Britain, and the newest democracy, Tunisia, will stand together in solidarity… Together we can fight terrorism.”
Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“The terrorists behind the Sousse attack wanted to destroy tourism because, in their narrow vision of the world, there should be no bridge between nations. They should not and shall not succeed,” said Tourism Minister Salma Elloumi.
While the Tunisian delegation was in London, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid met with Hammond in Brussels, where EU ministers pledged to increase political and economic support to Tunisia.
“What I have said to the Tunisian PM is we need to see some progress on the ground — I’m not suggesting in any way they are dragging their heels, they are doing a thorough investigation — but we need to see some progress in exposing the full extent of this network behind these attacks,” Hammond told the Daily Mail newspaper.
“And we need to see some progress on reassurance measures, more checkpoints, more static guarding, more entrance controls to hotels and they have got all that on board and they are telling us they are committed to doing it.
“So we will look forward to those advances. I’ve said that as soon as there has been further progress that gives us more confidence that the threat is diminished, and further mitigation of security measures, then we will keep our travel advice under constant review.
“We’d like nothing better than to be able to give a green light for tourism but we can only do that when we are confident that it is safe.”
Regarding a possible time frame of the change on the travel advice, Hammond said: ‘If they [the Tunisian authorities] had some good luck on the investigation and were prepared to take the measures necessary to provide security assurance, I think it could even be weeks, certainly months.
“The problem is tour operators, having cancelled their season, are not likely to go back this year.
“Whether it is weeks or months, we are talking about Tunisia’s re-emergence into the market for probably the winter season, as there is an over-winter business in Tunisia.”
Tunisia has been cooperating with EU members, especially Britain and France, to improve the professionalism of its security services and ensure that tourist sites are secured against further attacks.
“They want to see the results of the measures we have taken to secure tourist sites… We have taken measures with the British and other European states with complete transparency,” said Elloumi.
The security situation in Tunisia is, however, being adversely affected by the instability of the country’s neighbours. Tunisia shares a long and porous border with Libya, the site of the most active ISIS franchise outside of its Syrian and Iraqi heartlands. The attacks at both the Bardo and Sousse are believed to have received training in Libya.
Tunisian authorities have started work on a fence and trench barrier between Tunisia and Libya to prevent terrorist infiltration.