Stay Out: Tunisian protesters rally against extremist fighters' return

Stay Out: Tunisian protesters rally against extremist fighters' return
More fighters from Tunisia are fighting abroad than from any other Arab state and citizens back home are becoming increasingly wary of their return.
2 min read
09 January, 2017

Around 1,000 protesters took to the streets of central Tunis on Sunday to protest against Tunisian nationals who have travelled to fight in countries including Syria, Iraq, and Libya, from returning home.

Tunisian officials say as many as 3,000 Tunisians have travelled abroad — more than from any other Arab state — to take up arms. The UN puts the figure higher, at 5,000.

Reverses in the fortunes of the Islamic State group in Libya where the extremist group recently lost control of Sirte and international operations against it in Syria and Iraq have raised concerns that many will seek to return to the country.

On Sunday chants of "No to returning terrorists!" and "All Tunisians against terrorism!" rung out from the assembled crowd. 

Similar demonstrations took place in the Tunisian capital in December with President Beji Caid Essebsi offering little at the time to assuage concerns.

"Many of them want to return, and we can't prevent a Tunisian from returning to his country," said Essebsi, speaking at that time. 

"But we will be vigilant."

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has since promised that all militants returning from foreign battlefields would be arrested and judged according to the country's counter-terrorism law.

In recent weeks Tunisian authorities have arrested dozens of suspected jihadists in a series of ongoing security crackdowns following the identification of Tunisian national Anis Amri as the primary suspect in an attack last month at a Berlin Christmas market that left 12 people dead.

On Friday, in one development seen as cause for concern, Tunisian authorities announced the arrest of a state employee accused of passing information about security operations to extremist groups.

Since the toppling of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 Tunisia has been struggling to contain a burgeoning home-grown jihadist movement that has staged numerous attacks killing dozens of soldiers and police and civilians including more than 50 foreign tourists.