Overview: Over the past year, the Tunisian government increased its counterterrorism efforts and cooperation with the United States, with positive results. Former Prime Minister Joma'a's government, which assumed power in January 2014, made fighting terrorism a top priority and the government took increasingly bold steps to counter terrorism and violent extremism. The government led a sustained campaign to take tough action on terrorists and began a major effort to build the counterterrorism capabilities of its security forces. The security forces showcased their capabilities during the parliamentary and presidential elections in the last quarter of the year. The elections proceeded smoothly and without any major incident, despite terrorist vows to disrupt the process. The Tunisian security forces dismantled several terrorist cells and disrupted a number of plots before they could be executed.
Nevertheless, terrorism remained a serious challenge for Tunisia's nascent democracy. The rise of violent extremist organizations in Tunisia since the January 2011 revolution – including Ansar al-Shari'a in Tunisia (AAS-T) and al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – posed serious security challenges to a post-revolutionary government. The government continued its efforts to reorient the focus of the security forces toward a counterterrorism mission, but these reforms need time and international support to succeed. Tunisia continued to face challenges that included the potential for terrorist attacks, the influx of arms and violent extremists from across the Algerian and Libyan borders, and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The disproportionate numbers of Tunisians traveling to fight in Iraq and Syria – and the potential for the return of these fighters – was another cause for concern. Some independent sources estimate that up to 3,000 Tunisians have left their country for Syria and Iraq to join militant groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Tunisia has been active in countering terrorist threats to Tunisia's security. The government has put considerable efforts into stemming the flow of fighters to Syria and Iraq. Minister of Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou told the media in June that the Tunisian government detained "hundreds of returning foreign fighters." His announcement is consistent with his previous statement in February, estimating 400 Tunisian fighters had returned to the country. The government also estimates that approximately 9,000 Tunisians have been prevented from leaving Tunisia for Syria to join the conflict, although there is no independent confirmation of this number. Existing legislation enables the Tunisian government to detain returning fighters, although it has been difficult to meet the evidentiary requirements needed to prosecute them. A counterterrorism bill, which would modernize the legislative framework for dealing with terrorism, is currently before the legislature. An interagency team within the Tunisian Government was reviewing the bill at year's end to prepare amendments that would bring the bill's provisions in line with UN Security Council Resolutions 2170 and 2178.
Tunisia is one of six countries participating in the President's Security Governance Initiative (SGI) announced at the U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit. SGI focuses on the management, oversight, and accountability of the security sector at the institutional level.
2014 Terrorist Incidents: The list of incidents below highlights some of the most significant clashes between security forces and terrorist elements that occurred during the year.
On February 16, a group of terrorists wearing military uniforms killed three members of the security forces and one civilian in an ambush at a false check point in Ouled Manaa, Jendouba.
On April 11, approximately five soldiers and one civilian were injured in an IED explosion on Mount Chaambi.
On May 27, the Minister of Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou's house in Kasserine was attacked. Approximately four policemen were killed and one was injured. AQIM took responsibility for the attack.
On June 30, the explosion of an IED during a sweeping operation in the mountains of Ouergha, Le Kef, caused the death of approximately four soldiers. Officials reported a fifth soldier also died the same day after a clash with gunmen.
On July 16, in an attack on Mount Chaambi, 15 soldiers were reportedly killed and another 22 injured in a military camp a few minutes before they were to break their fast during the month of Ramadan.
On November 5, a group of suspected terrorists attacked a bus transporting soldiers in Neber, Kef. Five soldiers were reportedly killed and 10 injured.
On November 30, a National Guard member was abducted and later decapitated by violent extremists in the Mount Chaambi region.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The 2003 counterterrorism law remains the primary legal framework for dealing with terrorism offenses, although lesser offenses can still be charged under the penal code. A new bill that was designed to address concerns raised by human rights groups and modernizing the legislation was before the legislature at year's end.
The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense share responsibility for detecting, deterring, and preventing acts of terrorism in Tunisia. In particular, the Antiterrorism Brigade (BAT) and the National Guard Special Unit – elite units under the Ministry of Interior's National Police and National Guard, respectively – take the lead for counterterrorism operations outside the military exclusion zones. The National Unit for the Investigation of Terrorist Crimes leads investigations and liaises with the judicial system to encourage successful prosecutions. The military's role in counterterrorism has gradually increased, especially in the military exclusion zones and mountainous areas close to the Algerian border, where the Ministry of Defense has the lead in counterterrorism operations. The government was at the last stages in December 2014 of establishing an interagency Counterterrorism Fusion Center that would act as a clearing house for information among security ministries to enable them to better communicate and coordinate their counterterrorism efforts.
Security forces were inexperienced in tackling terrorist threats and lacked appropriate equipment and training. In the past year, the government's efforts have intensified, with successes including the seizure of weapons, arrests, and operations against armed groups throughout the country. At the tactical level, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense forces reportedly work well together, coordinating their efforts within Counterterrorism Task Forces that were established in the military exclusion zones.
Tunisia has an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and maintains fingerprint records for identification cards, criminal records, and latent prints. Tunisia currently has only one AFIS system and it is not known if the records can be shared with other government agencies via automated responses. Tunisia also maintains a DNA data base and has expressed an interest in becoming a Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) member. Tunisia does not currently share its biometric data with any countries. The Government has undertaken a sweeping study of its options to modernize and strengthen its border security capabilities.
Instability in Libya presents an additional challenge and continues to preoccupy Tunisian security officials and political leaders. Border security remained a priority in 2014 and Tunisian authorities collaborated with their Algerian counterparts to stem the flow of weapons and insurgents across their common borders and across their borders with Libya. Tunisia repeatedly expressed satisfaction with its cooperation with Algeria. Efforts to root out militants in the Mount Chaambi region and western borders with Algeria continued at year's end. While the operation has achieved some success, it has been hampered by Tunisian military's inexperience in this type of engagement.
The year saw a significant number of arrests and raids by security forces. The Government of Tunisia claimed to have arrested and detained 2,700 terrorists by the end of November 2014, double the number of arrests in all of 2013. On December 2, the government began the prosecution of 75 suspected terrorists for the killing of Anis Jelassi, the first member of the Tunisian security forces killed in a terrorist attack since the revolution.
Significant law enforcement and proactive disruptions arrests related to counterterrorism activities included:
On February 4, the police killed Kamel Gadhgadhi, alleged murderer of politician Chokri Belaid, and six other suspected terrorists in a house raid in Raoued, a northern suburb of Tunis. Clashes between suspected terrorists and security forces lasted nearly 20 hours and resulted in the death of a National Guard member. The police and the army seized weapons, ammunition, a large quantity of explosives, and mobile phones and military uniforms.
On February 9-10, the BAT raided a house and dismantled a terrorist cell in Cité Ennasim, Ariana, near Tunis. Four suspected terrorists were arrested, including Ahmed Melki, suspected of being involved in the assassination of politician Mohamed Brahmi.
On March 15, Abou Ayoub, one of the leaders of AAS-T was arrested in Gabes following his illegal entry into Tunisia from Libya.
On May 21, counterterrorist units arrested eight individuals on charges of planning terrorist attacks. They entered Tunisia from Libya, where they had been reportedly trained in the use of weapons and building bombs.
On July 10, clashes between the police forces and AAS-T members led to the arrest of eight suspected terrorists and confiscation of cash. AAS-T sympathizers organized a protest against the operations, which turned violent, and led to the use of tear gas by the police.
On October 9, Hafedh Ben Hassine, the brother of Seif Allah Ben Hassine, an AAS-T founder, was arrested on charges of financing Salafist groups and recruiting terrorists.
On October 22, security forces launched an assault in Oued Ellil, Manouba and surrounded a house harboring suspected terrorists. The operations continued for two days and finally led to the death of six suspected terrorists, including five women, and a National Guard member. The police seized light weapons and grenades. Information that the security forces had collected from a terrorist suspect in the early hours of that day in the south reportedly triggered the operations.
Tunisians voted in parliamentary elections on October 26 and in two rounds of presidential elections on November 23 and December 21. Despite terrorists' vows to disrupt the electoral process, the security forces could guarantee the safety of citizens during the vote. Sporadic violence in protest of the results occurred after the second round of the presidential elections, but it did not appear that terrorist groups had organized the protests.
The appeal of the court ruling to release the individuals who allegedly took part in the September 14, 2012 attacks on the U.S. Embassy and American Cooperative School of Tunis continued in 2014, but were continually delayed due to the suspects not showing up in court. The Minister of Interior confirmed in October that the security forces had arrested terrorists suspected of plotting an assassination attempt targeting the U.S. Ambassador.
Tunisia continued to participate in the Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program. Tunisian Ministry of Interior officials received ATA training in the areas of tactical crisis response, counterterrorism investigations, and command and control. Tactical units were granted specific tactical and enabling equipment. Department of State International Narcotics and Law Enforcement programs supported leadership development, police reform, prison reform, hostage rescue, and crowd control management for the Justice and Interior ministries, and provided vehicles, body armor, computers, and other equipment to enhance internal and border security. Leadership development included travel for Tunisian police and corrections professionals to the United States to meet U.S. law enforcement counterparts. The Tunisian Armed Forces consider counterterrorism and border security their principal mission. The armed forces have successfully employed U.S.-funded patrol craft, equipment, and training in border security and counterterrorism operations.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Tunisia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Since Tunisia has strict currency controls, it is likely that remittance systems such as hawala are operating. Trade-based money laundering is also a concern. Throughout the region, invoice manipulation and customs fraud were often involved in the process of hawala financial reconciliations. Tunisia's financial intelligence unit, the Tunisian Financial Analysis Commission, is headed by the governor of the Central Bank and includes representatives from a range of other agencies. It has worked effectively over the last year to gather important regulatory information to improve its efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The Tunisian penal code provides for the seizure of assets and property tied to narcotics trafficking and terrorist activities. Tunisia freezes and confiscates assets, but the timeframe for taking action varies depending on the case. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Regional and International Cooperation: Tunisia participates in multinational efforts to counter terrorism, such as those at the UN, the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), and the AU. Tunisia is an active member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, a U.S. multi-year interagency regional program aimed at building the capacity of governments in the Maghreb and Sahel to confront the threats posed by violent extremists. Tunisian authorities intensified their coordination on border security with Algerian counterparts over this past year, although cooperation with Libya diminished due to the absence of an effective Libyan central government. Algeria's cooperation with Tunisia on counterterrorism is particularly robust: an agreement between the two countries established military-to-military communications and a coordination committee in order to improve information sharing related to counterterrorism activities.
Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: Tunisia is making concerted efforts to improve socioeconomic conditions in the country through economic development and education programs in order to counter radicalization and violence. The government has also attempted to prevent the radicalization of Tunisians by minimizing their exposure to inflammatory rhetoric in the mosques. Article Six of the Constitution, adopted in January, defines the state as "the guardian of religion" with the duty to guarantee "the neutrality of the mosques and of the places of worship from all partisan instrumentalization." It also commits the state to "the dissemination of the values of moderation and tolerance," as well as "the prohibition of, and the fight against, appeals to excommunication and incitement to violence and hatred." Several hundred imams, reportedly with extremist agendas, took over mosques in the months following the 2011 revolution, accusing their predecessors of collaborating with the previous regime. The Ministry of Religious Affairs acknowledged in October 2011 that these imams controlled 400 mosques in Tunisia. The ministry declared in December 2014 that it had regained control of all mosques throughout Tunisia, and that it had replaced all self-appointed imams with government-sanctioned imams.
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