Tunisia has called on European governments to revise warnings for the country, highlighting its efforts to boost security after deadly jihadist attacks hit its vital tourism sector last year.
In a statement, which was released late Wednesday (17 February), Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui stated “showing solidarity with Tunisia in this period requires (European) states to review their warnings to citizens against travelling to Tunisia, which will help the tourism sector regain its normal pace.” On Wednesday, the Foreign Minister, along with Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub and Tourism Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik spoke about revising the travel advise when they met with ambassadors of European Union (EU) countries. According to the statement, Majdoub disclosed that “the police and army stand” ready to confront any threats. The statement also indicated that at the meeting, Majdoub presented measures to “improve the security situation and secure ports, airports and touristic places.” Details of these measures however were not indicated in the statement.
After a July attack that killed 38 tourists, including thirty Britons, in a beach resort near Sousse, European countries, such as Britain and Ireland, advised their nationals to leave Tunisia and avoid “all but essential travel.” The attack followed another on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in March that killed twenty-one tourists and a policeman. Both were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. In November, an IS-claimed suicide bombing on a bus in Tunis killed twelve presidential guards.
Last month, the central bank reported that in the wake of these attacks, Tunisia lost more than a third of its tourism revenues in 2015. According to the tourism ministry, the number of tourists from Europe fell by more than half from 2014 – and by nearly two-thirds compared with 2010. Figures released on Wednesday disclosed that Tunisia’s economic growth slowed to 0.8 percent in 2015 from 2.3 percent the previous year.
On Friday, 11 December, Tunisia reopened its border with Libya, just fifteen days after it closed the frontier following a suicide bombing in Tunis, which was claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.
According to Walid Louguini, a ministry spokesman, “the border with Libya was opened Thursday at midnight.” On the ground sources have reported that the crossing points of Ras Jedir and Wazen-Dhehibe were opened on Friday amidst extra security.
Tunisian officials ordered that the border crossings with conflict-stricken Libya be closed after the 24 November attack on a bus that was carrying presidential guards. The attack occurred along a main thoroughfare in the capital city and resulted in the death of twelve personnel. The attack, which was claimed by IS, prompted Tunisian authorities to increase security and surveillance at its borders and to reimposed a month-long state of emergency as they try to grapple with the increased threat that is emanating from lawless Libya. Shortly after the attack, the interior ministry reported that the explosives used in that attack were the same which were used to make suicide belts that were illegally brought from Libya and seized last year.
This year, IS has claimed three deadly attacks in Tunisia. In March, twenty-two people were killed at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis while in June, thirty-eight people, mainly British holidaymakers, were gunned down at the seaside resort of Sousse. Last week, as part of increased security measures, Tunisian authorities closed the main Tunis-Carthage international airport to Libyan planes. Official sources estimate that as many as 6,000 Tunisians have travelled to fight in Iraq, Syria and Libya, with many opting to join a number of extremist militant groups that are known to operate in the region, including IS.
Security Advisory: Tunisia (26 June)
At least twenty-seven people have been killed, amongst them several foreigners, in an attack that targeted a beach near two tourist hotels in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse on Friday. The attack occurred at a beach near the Hotel Imperial Marhaba. The Tunisian interior ministry has disclosed that the death toll is likely to increase in the coming hours as the situation on the ground is ongoing. Tourists near the site of the attack are now gathering in hotel reception and hiding in rooms as the situation develops. Officials have reported that one gunman has been shot dead while another is being pursued.
Sousse, a popular tourist destination, is located 140 kilometres (87 miles) south of the capital Tunis.
Friday’s attack comes on the same day as a man was decapitated and several others were injured at a factory in southeastern France; and a deadly attack targeted a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait City, Kuwait. An Islamic State-affiliated group has claimed the attack in Kuwait. Friday’s attack in Tunisia also comes as the Islamic State (IS) militant group has called on its followers to increase attacks during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which began last week. No one yet however has claimed responsibility for this attack.
The situation at a hotel resort in Sousse, Tunisia is ongoing. One suspect has been killed by officers while another remains on the loose.
MS Risk advises any travellers near the site of the incident to follow the instructions of local security officials and to take shelter.
There is currently a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping. Attacks can be indiscriminate and can occur in places that are frequented by foreigners. Since March this year, Tunisia has been on high alert after militants killed twenty-two people, mainly foreign tourists, in an attack on a museum in the capital city, Tunis.
MS Risk currently advises against all travel to the following areas of the country:
- The Chaambi Mountain National Park area;
- The Tunisia-Algeria border crossing points at Ghardimaou, Hazoua and Sakiet Sidi Youssef;
- The militarized zone south of, but not including, the towns of El Borma and Dhehiba;
- Within 5 kilometres of the border area with Libya from north of Dhehiba up to, but not including, the Ras Ajdir border crossing.
MS Risk currently advises against all but essential travel to:
- Areas south of, and including, the towns of Nefta, Douz, Medenine, Zarzis (including the Tunisia-Libya border crossing point of Ras Ajdir)
- Within 30 kilometres of the border with Algeria south of, and including, the town of Jendouba (this areas includes the archaeological sites of Bulla Regia and Chemtou;);
- The governorate of Kasserine, including the town of Sbeitla.
There has been a previous suicide bomb attack in the resort town of Sousse. On 30 October 2013, a blast occurred at 09:45 local time, with no-one sustaining injuries, except for the bomber. The blast occurred close to the Ridah Palms hotel. The male attacker, who was wearing a belt of explosives, was killed. Witnesses reported that the bomber was seen and was chased away from the hotel, eventually blowing himself up on an empty beach.
Security Advisory: Kuwait (26 June 2015)
At least ten people were killed Friday after a suicide bomb exploded at a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in the Kuwaiti capital. Officials have reported that many people were injured in the attack, and unconfirmed reports have placed the death toll much higher.
The blast occurred during Friday prayers and targeted the Imam Sadiq Mosque in al-Sawaber, which is a busy area to the east of Kuwait City. According to Kuwait parliament member Khalil al-Salih, worshippers were kneeling in prayer when a suicide bomber walked into the mosque and blew himself up. Witnesses in the mosque have reported that the suicide bomber looked to be in his 20s. The governor of Kuwait City, Thabet al-Muhanna, has disclosed that the mosque was filled with some 2,000 people when there was a loud explosion. Footage that has since been posted online depicts men walking around in a smoke-filled room with rubble on the floor. Friday midday prayers are typically the most crowded of the week, with attendance significantly increasing during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which began last week.
The Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, has arrived on scene and the Interior Ministry has told citizens to stay away from the area in order to allow the authorities to carry out an investigation.
Shortly after the explosion, an Islamic State- (IS) affiliated group, calling itself the Najd Province, claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack. In a statement that was posted on a Twitter account, which is known to belong to IS, the militant group stated that it targeted a “temple of the rejectionists” – a term it usually uses in order to refer to Shi’ite Muslims. While IS has previously carried out similar attacks in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Yemen, this is the first suicide bombing attack on a Shi’ite mosque to occur in the small Gulf state. In recent weeks, Najd Province has claimed responsibility for a pair of bombing attacks that targeted Shi’ite mosques in Saudi Arabia. The attack also comes after IS on Tuesday urged its followers to step up attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan against Christians, Shi’ites and Sunni Muslims fighting with a US-led coalition against the radical group.
While there is currently no nationwide advisory in effect for Kuwait, MS Risk advises all travellers to the Gulf country to exercise a high degree of caution, particularly in Kuwait city. This is due to a general threat of terrorist attacks. Further attacks cannot be ruled out and could be indiscriminate, occurring in places that are frequented by foreigners.
Any travellers currently in Kuwait, and specifically in Kuwait City, are advised to stay clear of the al-Sawaber area of the city. Authorities have closed off the area near the Imam Sadiq Mosque, however further attacks may occur in other areas of the city. Jihadists groups operating in the Middle East and in Africa have warned that they will increase their tempo of attacks during the Ramadan period, which began last week. Militants are likely to target mosques in the capital city, specifically during prayer times. MS Risk advises all travellers to maintain a high level of vigilance.
18 March- Gunmen dressed in military uniforms and armed with grenades and assault rifles attacked the National Bardo Museum in central Tunis, killing nineteen. Among the dead were seventeen foreigners including Italian, Spanish, Polish and German citizens. The museum is near the national Parliament, which was evacuated as police officers responded to the attack. Tunisian officials have suggested that Parliament was the originally intended target, as reports emerged that legislators were discussing an antiterrorism law on Wednesday.
Among the dead were seventeen tourists and two Tunisians. Eight people were killed as they alighted from a bus to visit the museum. A further ten were taken hostage and then killed. A Tunisian museum guard who was injured in the attack and died later of his wounds. During a news conference, Prime Minister Habib Essid said that 24 more people were injured in the attack.
The identity of the two terrorists has not been established. There are reports that a third gunmen and additional operatives may remain at large. At the time of this writing, the operation at the museum remains ongoing but is near completion, according to Tunisian authorities.
Protests in Tunisia beginning in 2010 were the spark of a series of popular revolts in the region termed “The Arab Spring”. Tunisia has experienced a successful, although at times turbulent, transition of governments and has fostered democracy. The nation recently held presidential and parliamentary elections. Recently elected Prime Ministar Essid called the incident “a critical moment in our history, and a defining moment for our future.” Tunisia is striving to reinvigorate its economy and tourism industry after years of unrest; tourism is a critical sector in Tunisia’s economy.
However while Tunisia has enjoyed a degree of success, today’s attack reveal the significance of another emerging issue for the nation. A number of Tunisians have left the country to become fighters abroad. Some have left to join the fight against Bashar al Assad in Syria, while others have been tempted by recruiters for ISIS. Recruiters for the terrorist group have taken advantage of the unrest in Tunisia and targeted jaded youth; including those who are angry with the high unemployment rate and the abusive police force (remnants of the old regime). Tunisia is currently one of the largest sources of foreign fighters for ISIS. In December 2014, a video of three Tunisian fighters for ISIS warned that Tunisians would not live securely “as long as Tunisia is not governed by Islam.” Today’s attacks indicate that Tunisia may experience similar attacks as fighters return to the country. This concern rings true for many nations across the Middle East and North Africa.
Tunisia’s woes are amplified by the unrest in neighbouring Libya has become increasingly unstable. Fighting in Libya has come close to Tunisian borders, and Tunisian security forces have engaged in battles with terrorist elements who cross into Tunisia in the mountainous regions that share a border with Libya. Tunisian authorities have also battled with fighters linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who occasionally target Tunisian security forces.
Today’s attack comes a day after ISIS reported the death of a prominent Tunisian field commander during fighting in Libya. A eulogy statement posted online late on Monday said Ahmed al-Ruwaysi, also known as Abu Zakariya al-Tunisi, was killed in recent days amid clashes in Sirte. Al-Tunisi, according to the eulogy, planned and participated in the 2013 assassinations of two prominent liberal Tunisian politicians: Mohammed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid. It is likely that the attacks today are directly related to the death of Al-Tunisi.
9 July – Roadside bomb kills 1, injures 4
An Egyptian soldier was killed after a roadside bomb targeted armoured vehicle in El-Arish, in the Sinai Peninsula. The attack also wounded four soldiers.
Egypt experienced a short period of peace immediately following Egyptian President al-Sisi’s election; however, bombings and protests have resumed. On the one year anniversary of the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, the nation experienced a series of bombings in Kerdasa, Abbaseya, and Imbaba. Security forces and government buildings have been regularly targeted, but several incidents have killed and wounded civilian bystanders.
In Alexandria, police forces arrested four suspects on 7 June in connection with bomb blasts in a train station in Alexandria earlier in the week. The explosion took place between two of the cars of a train heading to Sidi Gaber neighbourhood, injuring seven. The suspects were reportedly “young members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were trained by high profile leaders to attack police facilities and public transportations”, according to Egypt’s Interior Ministry. In a statement released on Friday, the ministry accused the Muslim Brotherhood of attempting to create “a state of chaos”.
10 July – Islamic State seizes nuclear materials
Iraq’s envoy, in a letter to the UN, has warned that the militant group ISIS has seized nuclear materials in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The group obtained approximately 40 kilograms of uranium compounds, used for scientific research at a university. The UN atomic agency (IAEA) has said the low-grade material is not a significant security risk. US officials echoed these remarks, stating that the uranium was not believed to be enriched, and unlikely to be useful for weapons development.
The letter sent to the UN by Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim called for international assistance to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad”. Al-Alhakim added, “Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state […] These nuclear materials, despite the limited amounts mentioned, can enable terrorist groups, with the availability of the required expertise, to use it separately or in combination with other materials in its terrorist acts.” Despite the uranium’s lack of utility, an IAEA spokesperson said “any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern”.
A day before the letter was received, Iraqi officials confirmed that ISIS had militants captured the Muthanna complex, an abandoned chemical weapons factory northwest of Baghdad. The complex houses remnants of rockets containing nerve agents, including sarin gas. ISIS is now in control of an area between Iraq and Syria that is approximately the size of Belgium.
8 July – Israel, Palestine attacks continue
An Israeli military spokesman has said that since Monday, Israeli air forces attacked 750 targets and dropped 800 tons of bombs. Palestinian militants fired 230 rockets from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. On 9 July, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel has expanded Operation Protective Edge in response to the continuing rocket attacks, he has also called on reservists suggested that a ground phase could occur. Fighting has escalated after three Israeli teens that went missing were found dead. The Israeli government accused Hamas, which has denied responsibility. Retaliatory attacks on Palestinians have left 75 dead, including 15 children.
7 July – ISIS Leader suggests Jordan is next target
ISIS leader and self proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has suggested that Jordan will be the next target for ISIS, and refugees who have fled there could be first in the line of fire. The Jordanian military has been on the offensive for several weeks as ISIS gained traction in Iraq, but it is now believed that Syrian civilians at the Azraq camp near the Iraqi border are in the danger zone.
Oraib al-Rantawi, a Jordanian political analyst, called the threat by ISIS “real and imminent”, adding, “We cannot afford the luxury of just waiting and monitoring. The danger is strategic – and getting closer.”
The US Department of Defence has awarded a contract to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to supply twenty Javelin Block 1 tactical missiles to Jordan’s military, to be completed by 30 September.
7 July – 28 arrested in Lebanon for suicide bomb plot
Twenty-eight people, reportedly members of the militant group ISIS, have been charged with buying equipment to carry out suicide bomb attacks in Beirut. Seven of the group are in custody. The names and nationalities of those charged have not been released.
Lebanon has been in the crossfire of sectarian violence do to conflicts in Syria and the ISIS insurgencies in Iraq and Syria. The nation has suffered a series of attacks in recent weeks. On 20 June, Lebanon’s General Security service narrowly escaped a suicide bombing near the Syrian border. On 23 June, a suicide bomber blew up his car near an army checkpoint in Beirut, killing himself and a security officer. Two days later, a Saudi suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Saudi embassy, wounding three security officers.
Lebanese authorities have carried out a series of security raids in the capital and other parts of the country in recent weeks. In mid June, security forces detained 17 people at a Beirut hotel on suspicion of planning attacks; the French foreign ministry confirmed that at least one of the men detained was a French National. All were released the following day.
15 June – Hiftar facing dwindling support
Libya’s rogue general, Khalifa Hifter, is losing support for his revolt against militants in Eastern Libya. Many Libyans initially supported Hifter’s plan to drive extremists out of Benghazi, particularly as the weakened government had failed to take significant action in the region. However, Hifter troops have been unable to gain the advantage against the rebels, and many believe his actions are laying the ground for his political aspirations.
In Benghazi, the militant group Ansar al-Sharia is responsible for a great deal of violence in the region. Hifter initially set out to target this group, but his mission expanded to include other Islamists in the region. Hifter’s expanded mission and subsequent standoff has resulted in damage to homes, farms, and livestock. One tribe in Benghazi has demanded that Hifter’s troops leave the area or it would join the fight against him, officials and residents there said.
Hifter also oversaw the storming of the GNC building in Tripoli in May, convincing some that the 71 year old general has political goals. He called for an emergency government to replace the GNC and guide the country toward new elections. Since then, Hifter has made blanket indictments of Libya’s nonmilitant Islamists as well as the insurgents. Many believe he is styling himself after Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, led a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt over the past year. During a recent news conference, Hifter called the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood an “epidemic” that “the Libyan soil will not absorb.” Many Islamist supporters who disagree with militant actions now feel targeted.
One member of Libya’s General National Congress said, “Hifter inserted himself into a scenario where he is the cavalier on a white horse who came to save the day.” He added, however, “Hifter’s military power is actually quite limited. He hasn’t been able to control the situation.”
An anonymous former member of a brigade in Benghazi said, “Both sides — Ansar al-Sharia and Hifter — are illegal bodies working outside the state. So it’s a dilemma for everybody, and we don’t like either of them. We are worried about where this violence will take us.”
10 July – ISIS to Qatar: “Cancel the World Cup or we’ll bomb it”
In a message posted on an ISIS media forum, the group has warned FIFA, the governing body of world football, that they will bomb the World Cup if it is held in Qatar in 2022. The group said they would target the event with long-range Scud missiles. The full message reads:
“Dear Joseph, [Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, President of FIFA]
We had sent a message to you back in 2010, when you decided or were bribed by the former Amir of Qatar to have the 2022 world cup in Qatar. Now, after the establishment of the Caliphate state, we declare that there will be no world cup in Qatar since Qatar will be part of the Caliphate under the rule of the Caliph Ibrahim Bin Awad Alqarshi (Al Baghdady’s full name) who doesn’t allow corruption and diversion from Islam in the land of the Muslims. This is why we suggest that you will decide upon a replacement country instead of Qatar. The Islamic state has long-rang scud missiles that can easily reach Qatar, as the Americans already know.
Photos released earlier this month show ISIS militants parading a Scud ballistic missile through the streets of Raqqa in Syria. It is likely the insurgents captured the missile from a Syrian military base in 2013. However experts do not believe the missile is operable. One astute blogger wrote, “The only danger that Islamic State scud is to anyone at the moment is if they accidentally run over a pedestrian showing it off”.
8 July – Saudi Arabia faces security crisis on two borders
Three mortar bombs landed inside Saudi Arabia, near a block of flats outside the northern town of Arar, near the Iraqi border. There were no casualties reported, however the mortars stoked fears in citizens who are facing ISIS on their Iraqi border. Last week, King Abdullah announced an increase in security after Islamic State declared a caliphate and made advances in Iraq. The kingdom is deploying 30,000 troops to its borders. Saudi authorities fear that the militant group could radicalise their citizens.
In the south, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, has long had the goal of bringing down the House of Saud and establishing a cross-border caliphate in Islam’s holy city of Mecca. Over the weekend, six Saudi members of al Qaeda launched an attack on al-Sharurah, near the border with Yemen. Two of the militants grabbed 10 hostages and shut themselves into a government building where they blew themselves up on Saturday. Five attackers were killed and one was captured in clashes with security forces. Four border guards and one hostage were also killed.
8 July – Popular Radical Australian Cleric joins Islamic State
Musa Cerantonio, a radical Muslim cleric who renounced his Australian citizenship last year, has travelled to Syria to support the newly established Islamic State, making him the third cleric from Australia to travel to Syria to support the jihadist cause. Cerantonio left Australia in 2013 and was believed to be hiding in the Philippines, possibly taking shelter with one of several al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in the area. The cleric openly supported ISIS prior to their declaration of a caliphate, and subsequently travelled to Syria to fulfil the request made by the Islamic State on 1 July for Muslims, especially those with needed skills, to join the caliphate.
Cerantonio, a popular figure in radicalised circles, relies on effective social media to spread his message. He has re-tweeted ISIS statements as well as his own support for the group while calling for the death of Western leaders. A 2014 by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation concluded that one in four foreign fighters followed Cerantonio’s Twitter account and that his Facebook page was the third-most ‘liked’ page among radicalised militants.
Meanwhile, a UN report released on Tuesday suggests that the Middle East could become embroiled in wider sectarian warfare. The report states, “Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni (Muslim) communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds.” The report adds, “ISIL has shown itself willing to fan the flames of sectarianism, both in Iraq and in Syria. Any strengthening of their position gives rise to great concern.”
9 July – Tunisia raises terror alert level
Tunisia has raised its security alert level in cities and at sensitive sites, especially during iftar, the breaking of fast at sunset during Ramadan. The move came following a landmine blast that killed four soldiers July 2nd on Jebel Ouergha, El Kef province. A mine blast in the same area wounded six troops a day earlier.
During the funeral of the four slain soldiers, Defence Minister Ghazi Jeribi vowed that security forces would track down and besiege the terrorists to prevent new attacks on civilian and military targets. He stated that the war on terror “is of concern to all Tunisian people and requires that all be mobilised to protect our homeland.”
Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa echoed these sentiments: “We are no longer waiting for terrorism to come to us, but have gone to its hotbeds in order to confront it and eliminate them.”
Security forces have begun to storm terrorist hideouts in the mountains along the Algerian border, between Jendouba and El Kef provinces. Tunisian forces have been fighting al-Qaeda affiliated militants barricaded in the mountains for over a year.
8 July – Thousands of families flee fighting in Amran
As many as ten thousand families have fled the Yemeni city of Amran, 30 miles north of the capital Sanaa. The families evacuated to escape a battle between Shi’a rebels and the military. Clashes broke out last week between Yemeni troops and the Houthis, a rebel group which seeks greater autonomy for northern Yemen. The attack ended a ceasefire that had been set in place on 23 June. Local officials claim that over 200 people had been killed and 100 wounded on Tuesday as rebel groups captured the area. The officials also reported dozens of bodies were lying in the streets.
The Houthis, a Shi’a group, have said their fight was against members of the Sunni Islamist Islah political party. The Houthis claim to have no intention of attacking Sanaa, but Amran has long been a stronghold of the the Bani al-Ahmar tribe, whose members hold prominent positions of the party.
The Houthis have accused the Yemeni government of breaking the ceasefire and blame army units loyal to Islah for advancing in the Jawf province. The government responded that the advance was prompted by the failure of Houthis to vacate positions as they had promised.
The Yemeni Red Crescent has issued a call for help. It is believed that nearly 5,000 families remain trapped inside the city.