Tunisia rolls out tough new 'anti-terror' measures

Tunisia rolls out tough new 'anti-terror' measures
Tunisia's prime minister has announced steps he believes are essential to combatting extremism, including a 100-mile wall on the Libyan border and a temporary but harsh emergency law.
3 min read
09 July, 2015
Tunisia's tourist industry has been shaken by two recent attacks on foreign groups [Anadolu]
Tunisia has announced that it will construct an "anti-terror barrier" along its border with Libya, to curb the inflow of militants into the country.

Prime Minister Habib Essid made the announement on Tunisian television yesterday. Constrution of the barrier began in April, he said, and the wall should stretch more than 100 miles when completed in December.

Libya and Tunisia share a 285-mile border.

The "anti-terror" barrier will include fencing, a sand wall, trenches and surveillance posts and should make the border "impassable" to extremists, officials say.

Tunisia was the first country take part in anti-regime demonstrations, known as the Arab Spring, and has experienced a relatively peaceful transition to democracy compared with Egypt, Libya or Syria.

Extremist sentiments

But Tunisia has also witnessed a rise in extremist activity, and the country contributes the largest number of foreign fighters to the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS).

Other Tunisians are joining the ranks of Libya's armed groups - some linked either to IS or al-Qaeda - and taking part in a sideshow battle against Tobruk and Tripoli forces in the country's civil war.

The interior ministry reported on Wednesday that 33 young Tunisians had "gone missing" and were believed to have crossed the border into Libya.

On 26 June, an attack on a beach resort in Tunisia left 38 tourists dead, most of them British.

The Tunisian government believe that the gunman trained at a IS camp in Libya.

It followed an attack on tourists at Tunis' Bardo hotel in March, which left 24 people dead.
     We are engaged in a ferocious war against terrorism.
- Habib Essid, prime minister 

Tunisia's economy is heavily reliant on tourism, and many fear that the two incidents could decimate the industry.

Outcry against extremism has been vocal, and a number of rallies promoting moderate Islam and secularism have been held.

Tough measures

The government has responded to June's attack by ordering a one-month state of emergency.

It gives law enforcers unprecedented powers, such as the right to break up protests or labour strikes, and gives authorities increased control over the media.

Speaking at parliament on Thursday, Essid said the measures were necessary to combat groups who are "preparing future operations".

"We are engaged in a ferocious war against terrorism," the prime minister said.

"We would not have felt obliged to decree the state of emergency if we were not convinced that our country was facing numerous terrorist plans to destabilise the country."

However, he promised that human rights would "not be touched".

Human rights groups disagree.

Nine NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, wrote to parliament saying that recent anti-terror measures would affect "public and individual rights and freedoms".

"Terror suspects" can now be held incommunicado by police for up to 15 days, and some Tunisians are saying that these measuress are reminiscent of the police state under former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.