Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid said on Wednesday that the country fears more potentially destabilizing terrorist attacks like the Sousse massacre, in which 38 foreign tourists were killed on June 26. This is the rationale behind the 30-day state of emergency that President Beji Caid Essebsi declared on Saturday. “Tunisia faces a very serious danger and it should take any possible measures to maintain security and safety. As we see in other countries, if attacks like Sousse happen again, the country will collapse,” Essebsi warned.
Expanding on those sentiments, Essid told parliament of “the gangs of terrorism, murder and crime preparing other operations … aimed at killing the maximum number of people, undermining morale and grinding the national economy to a halt.” (Sousse occurred only three months after a terrorist attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis that killed 21 tourists and a police officer.) So having been shocked twice into action, Tunisia is taking further concrete steps to combat this terrorist threat. Accompanying Saturday’s state of emergency declaration, 1,300 armed guards were deployed to protect hotels and tourist sites.
The country is also building a 100-mile “anti-terror barrier” of berms and trenches on one-third of its border with war-torn Libya, between the major border crossings at Ras Jedir on the coast and Dhehiba inland. It will serve as a temporary barrier until a more expensive electric fence can be built, Essid said on Sunday. Construction began in April, and it will be completed by the end of the year — but that may not be soon enough to prevent the next attack. Even after it is built, two-thirds of the desert border with Libya will still be mostly open, beyond the control of Tunisian authorities. (Tunisian officials are now looking for international assistance and equipment, including helicopters and radar systems.)
Improving the performance of the security services will be difficult, however. More than 180 top anti-terrorist and intelligence officers were dismissed following dictator Zine Ben Ali’s overthrow in 2011, as the new government sought to break from the corruption and human rights abuses of the past. But the cuts gutted the counter-terrorism expertise and capabilities of the security services, which have since taken heavy criticism for failing to act on early indications of upcoming attacks and responding slowly to ongoing attacks.
Essid declared “whatever it takes, we will prevail over terrorism,” but that doing so would not come at the expense of human rights. These will “not be touched,” he said. However, following another attack some human rights might be the next casualties.