France warned in early September that so-called Islamic State (IS) group fighters could flee towards Egypt and Tunisia after being flushed from their former Libyan stronghold of Sirte.
Speaking on 5 September during a defense conference in Paris, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that “we should begin to look seriously at the question of the spread of the terrorists once Sirte…(is) emptied of the terrorists.” He further disclosed that “they don’t disappear. There’s a new risk that appears,” adding, “indirectly this will pose new risks for Tunisia and Egypt.” He also indicated that it was a “shame, perhaps political reasons prevent it, that all the neighbouring states of Libya don’t meet” over the issue.
Le Drian’s Tunisian counterpart, Farhat Horchani, has also called for effective regional coordination. Horchani, who attended the same defense conference in Paris, stated, “we have a large number of foreign fighters who arrived from Sirte, or from Syria. I can see no strategy, no cooperation between the states,” to deal with the problem.”
Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which has been backed by weeks of US air strikes, have recaptured nearly all of what had been the jihadists’ main stronghold in the North African country. On 3 September, pro-GNA forces launched a new attack against IS in Sirte, reporting the following day that it could take several days to gain full control of the city.
IS took advantage of the chaos in oil-rich Libya in the wake of the 2011 uprising. They went on to seize Sirte in June 2015, which sparked fears that the jihadists would use it as a springboard for attacks on Europe. While the loss of Sirte would be a reversal for IS, French and US figures indicate that there are between 5,000 and 7,000 jihadists that remain in Libya, with one French security source disclosing that many “have evaporated in th south of he country.”
On 13 May, Germany’s lower house of parliament approved a draft law effectively declaring Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as safe countries. The move was done in a bid to ease deportation of failed asylum seekers from those North African states.
The law passed easily in the Bundestag lower house, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their left-leaning Social Democrat coalition partners hold a majority. Only three lawmakers abstained from the vote while 424 voted for bill and 143 voted against it. The government commissioner for human rights, Baerbel Kofler, voted against the bill, stating that there were “proven and documented human rights violations” in those three countries. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has defended the law, stating that only 0.7 percent of asylum applicants from the three North African countries were granted refugees status in the first three months of this year.
The bill, which has been criticized by human rights groups as well as the opposition Greens and hard left Die Linke, still needs to be receive final approval from parliament’s upper house. If passed, the law will effectively allow German authorities to speed up the processing of asylum applicants from those countries and deport them if they are rejected.
In January, the German government tightened asylum rules in a bid to stem an influx of migrants, which last year saw more than one million people entering the country. Most of those who entered Germany in 2015 were asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
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.