Tunisia pledges tougher security measures after attack – USA TODAY
TUNIS, Tunisia â The Tunisian government will shutter unsanctioned mosques and organizations that could have ties to Islamic extremism, step up security at tourist spots and deploy troops elsewhere in the wake of the country’s worst terror attack ever.
“The fight against terrorism is a national responsibility,” Prime Minister Habib Essid said Saturday as his government announced a raft of new measures. “We are at war against terrorism which represents a serious danger to national unity during this delicate period that the nation is going through.”
Essid spoke a day after a gunman hid an assault rifle under an umbrella and killed 38 people at the Imperial Marhaba hotel in the coastal city of Sousse. Most of the victims were European tourists. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
Tunisian police shot and killed the gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui, a student who used the jihadi pseudonym of Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorists’ activity online.
“The attack is an isolated operation of the sort that could affect anyone,” said Rafik Chelli, the secretary of state of the Interior Ministry. He said Tunisian security officials thwarted two other planned attacks two days before.
Tunisian security forces had been on alert since March when two Tunisian gunmen opened fire on the Bardo museum in Tunis, killing 22 people, mostly tourists. Two gunmen were killed in that attack, for which the Islamic State also claimed credit.
The attack on the resort and museum threatens not only to upset the political stability of Tunisia, but also undermine its tourism industry, which comprises around 15% of its gross domestic product.
Many Tunisians said Saturday that the government hasn’t been doing enough to protect the country’s fragile stability.
“This attack was expected. After what happened in Bardo, it can only escalate,” said Hatem Gargouri, 45, an attorney in Tunis. “Let’s face it: there are security vulnerabilities and loopholes. Otherwise how could you explain how he made his way to the beach carrying guns without being noticed or searched? There is also no firm political will to eradicate terrorism.”
Essid’s announcement Saturday appeared designed to allay those concerns. The prime minister said he would call up reservists to deploy troops to museums, seaside areas and mountain zones where terrorist cells are suspected of holding up.
The government is also planning to close 80 mosques operating without permits and crack down on groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Islamist political party that seeks to implement Sharia law.
Amel Khaldi, 30, a optician in Tunis, welcomed the crackdown. “I wish they could be firmer,” she said. “I don’t believe these people deserve fair trials and even accomplices that only provide them with food and shelter in exchange for money should be considered as guilty as them.”
Others said the government should do more to provide opportunities for young men living in remote areas of the country. Tunisia’s unemployment rate is 15%, but joblessness is far higher away from the coast and outside larger cities.
“This is what happens when a state marginalizes desperate youth,” said Mustafa Belhadj, 65, a retired management consultant. “Young people are fed up of poverty, oppression and marginalization. Some of them resort to the parallel economy, contraband and some of them choose to join the Islamic State and Islamist groups to express their anger and their hatred.”
Dozens of people, mostly tourists, were killed when a lone gunman stormed a resort in Tunisia and opened fire. He was shot dead by security forces.