Monday, March 06, 2017

Tunisia's Islamist Jihadist Dilemma

"How can we accept those people who are professionals in war, in the use of arms and have a culture of being terrorists?"
"It is a nightmare for Tunisia. We are not ready for that."
Badra Gaaloul, International Center of Strategic, Security and Military Studies

"The terrorist current was one of the main beneficiaries of the Tunisian revolution."
"From the first months it quickly profited from the release of its detained members and from the climate of freedom to rebuild itself."
Tunisian report on terrorism

"Their aim [Islamists] is still to destabilize the state."
"They [Tunisian police and military] have dismantled the logistics and recruitment networks, and there is no longer this support system that there was in 2012 and 2013."
Colonel Mokhtar Ben Nasr, head, military analysis, Tunisian Center for Global Security Studies
Tunisian forces in Ben Gardane, near the Libyan border, during clashes with jihadists a year ago. Credit Fathi Nasri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
There is no longer any government-sponsored programs for the purpose of de-radicalizing Tunisians returning to their country of birth from fighting in Syria, Iraq and Libya; no programs, no efforts to reintegrate them back into society, according to Ridha Raddaoui, lawyer and co-author of a new report on terrorism in the country, authorized by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights. Which points out that instead of supporting families of suspects and returning fighters they face persecution.

"The methods are pushing people to terrorism", claims Mr. Raddaoui, of the thousands whose family members long since departed to become fighters for Islamic State or al-Qaeda. Greater numbers of Tunisians joined rank with the Islamic State than from any other country in the region. Facing defeat on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, Tunisia is girding itself for the return of its Islamist citizen-fighters, without having any idea of how best to handle their presence.

Of the 5,5000 Tunisians who chose to go abroad to fight as jihadists -- responding to a clarion call to the faithful they found irresistible -- many, according to estimates out of the United Nations, are planning new targets to be found at home and throughout Europe. Tunisians have been known for their implication in a number of recent terrorist attacks taking place in France and Germany. Tunisia is contemplating with dread their return to Tunisia.
Associated Press

The nation's new Constitution does not permit their being barred entry, as Tunisians. They can be incarcerated as punishment for becoming part of a terrorist group or for the commission of crimes abroad, but evidence is elusive to support such cases. Instead, Tunisia has settled for a possibly illegal system of monitoring, viewed by government opponents and human rights groups as being counter-productive. Since the threat of imprisonment and torture is seen as a deterrence to those planning to return.

Instead some of those committed jihadists have decided to remain illegally in Turkey and Europe, as literally ticking time bombs. Threatened with punishment on return to Tunisia, they have been rendered stateless and may perceive they have nothing to lose by continuing their commitment to jihad right where they find themselves. Those Tunisians choosing to remain in Libya affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are every bit as much a threat since that group plans to bring Islamic rule to Tunisia, extending it to all of North Africa.

Tunisia, the poster-nation for the only 'success' realized by the unfolding of the Arab Spring. As the first country to experience the phenomenon and the only one to be recognized as having transitioned from a dictatorship to a well-functioning hybrid secular government with an Islamist back-up, it has been hailed as a success. The moderates among the political parties made accommodation with the fundamentalists, but insurgents crossed into Algeria.

And those terrorists initiated a campaign of assassinations, ambushes on police and military, and also affected suicide attacks, the hallmark of Islamic State action-central. Tunisia, since 2013 has been struck by numerous episodes of terrorist attacks, many of which were planned by groups whose bases are in Libya. A suicide attacker killed a dozen members of the Tunisian presidential guard in 2015. The Tunisian border town of Ben Gardane last year came under attack by hundreds of Tunisian fighters.

Tunisian Islamist leaders, previously finding sympathy with young jihadists have now joined President Beji Caid Essebsi to agree that all returning fighters must go before the courts. "They killed people, and they have to pay", stated Abdelfattah Mourou, deputy speaker of Parliament. Human rights activists insist that the cycle of radicalization will continue as long as the jihadists see no way out of their dilemma of returning only to face imprisonment.

Mr. Raddaoui of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights points out that the justice system will discover that "There are no autopsies, no police reports", since the crimes took place elsewhere, making it difficult to prove that any punishable crimes were committed, leaving the government in a quandary once again on how to proceed, to protect the Tunisian public from the presence of hard-core fighters bringing their grievances back home with them.

As though to give the government authorities further fuel for thought, Mr. Raddaoui helpfully pointed out that in his reading of the court papers relating to 500 returned Tunisians, there was no detectable signal of remorse to be seen: "What they admit to, they do not regret at all", was his less-than-comforting observation.

A January protest in Tunis against returning jihadists, as seen from inside a bus. Credit Amine Landoulsi/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

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