Tunis struggles with anti-terrorism battle plan

Tunisia has vowed to wage "a merciless war against terrorism" after Wednesday`s carnage at its national museum but it has struggled to draw up a strategy to counter the jihadist threat.

Tunis: Tunisia has vowed to wage "a merciless war against terrorism" after Wednesday`s carnage at its national museum but it has struggled to draw up a strategy to counter the jihadist threat.

Analysts say the attack on the Bardo museum next to the Tunisian parliament in which gunmen killed 21 people, all but one of them foreign tourists, highlighted the need to combine a clear vision with the operational means.

"We can no longer delude ourselves or delude public opinion," Le Quotidien newspaper said in an editorial, warning that "thousands of terrorists operate in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Iraq (who were) trained or recruited in our country".

The authorities acknowledge that Tunisians fighting abroad -- said to number between 2,000 and 3,000 -- and the proximity of violence-strewn Libya are both serious security threats.

The twin challenge compounds that posed by Al-Qaeda-linked militants hiding out in mountains near the Algerian border, who have killed dozens of members of Tunisia`s security forces.

After each flareup in violence, fingers are pointed at the moderate Islamist movement Ennahda, which was the dominant political force in Tunisia after its 2011 revolution up until a year ago.

"Its leaders were lax, at best ... (and) they did not live up to the level of the threat," said La Presse, another daily.

Ennahda strongly denies any blame, pointing out that the main Salafist group following a radical version of Sunni Islam, Ansar al-Sharia, was branded a "terrorist organisation" on its watch.

The current government, which set fighting terrorism as a top priority when it took office after elections last year, has also faced its share of criticism.

"The fight requires more rigour and firmness from the powers that be," said Le Quotidien, reflecting the frustration and anger of ordinary Tunisians a day after the museum murders.

Prime Minister Habib Essid, at a Thursday news conference, admitted "failings in the (nation`s) security system," vowing closer cooperation between the army and internal security services.

An emergency meeting of top government figures and army brass decided that Tunisia will deploy soldiers to beef up security in major cities.

The military will be tasked with "patrols at the entrances to, and areas surrounding, major cities" in coordination with the police, a presidential source told AFP.

The measures also include tightening cooperation among the different branches of the security forces and a review of border security.

"The chain of command must be more efficient, with orders being handed down with fluidity," said Ahmed Driss, director of the Centre for Mediterranean and International Studies.Driss said reform of the security services was long overdue.

"There absolutely must be cooperation ... But this is structural, and structural change takes time. But the situation now is urgent," warned Chahrazed Ben Hamida, a researcher and member of the Tunisian Observatory for Global Security.

Driss also pointed out that Islamist militants had come down to the city from their traditional mountain battleground on the Algerian border.

The Islamic State jihadist group on Thursday claimed responsibility for the Bardo assault and threatened more of the same.

"What you have seen is only the start," it said in an audio message posted online.

With the battle lines drawn, President Beji Caid Essebsi has vowed his country -- birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring aimed at bringing democracy to the region -- will fight "to our last breath".

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. You can find out more by clicking this link