On 6 February 2013, the Tunisian leftist leader Chokri Belaid was shot dead. Belaid had been very critical of the Islamist-led troika government and of violence perpetrated by radical Islamists. More than one million people took to the streets on that Wednesday, protesting against the murder and violence, and asking for the whole truth about the murder to be unveiled. Despite arrests of some suspects and security sweeps that led to the killings of some of Ansar Alsharia extremist members, a certain ambiguity about the circumstances of the assassination remains about the persons-or the parties- who participate, instigate or execute.
Less than two years later, terrorism struck at the very heart of Paris, leaving 17 deaths and about 20 people injured. Once again, up to about two million people were estimated to have taken to the streets, led by about fifty world leaders, denouncing terrorism and the attack on freedom of expression and that of conscience.
The two terrorist operations, although they took place in two different countries, have common links that go beyond Islamist extremism that has become a real danger, not only in the Middle East and North Africa where the political and security situation is precarious but also around the world, including countries with strong institutions, stable political environment and an extensive sophisticated security apparatus.
On January 8th, 2015, barely twenty-four hours after Charlie-Hebdo terrorist attack, the investigative judge of Tunis put Abdelkarim Labidi , a police officer who had been given exceptionally rapid promotions under the Troika government to end up as chief brigade at the Carthage airport, under arrest. Labidi had often been accused of his close relations with extremists and had been seen with Abubaker Alhakim, a now famous leader of Daesh who prides himself on being responsible for the killing of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, in a Tunis Air Company Car on the eve of the Brahmi’s assassination. (Ashourouq daily newspaper 27-12-2014)
Curious coincidence! Alhakim, the mastermind of political assassinations in Tunisia had close contacts with Said and Cherif Kaouachi, the two brothers who attacked Charlie-Hebdo. (Mondafrique.com 11-1-2015)
They had been together in the “19th arrondissement Iraqi cell” in Paris and they spent weeks in Tunisia “the promised land for international terrorism between 2012 and 2013” (previous source).
The two brothers would have stayed two months in Tunisia, performing their training skills in handling arms, before joining Abubaker Alhakim in Libya.
Tackling the roots of terrorism
The course followed by the Kaouachi brothers and Alhakim is the same followed by thousands of extremists all over the world: born in torn apart families, they were involved in delinquent behavior before being recruited by Jihadists. In the absence of social and cultural integration, the universe of terrorism gives meaning to petty criminals, promoted to the rank of “heroes in a holy war.” (see Adam Shatz, moral clarity)
No “value” could justify terrorism that deliberately targets the fundamentals of democracy: freedom of expression, the right to be different, religious and cultural diversities…
But that does not prevent us from taking account of limits of successes against terrorist cells in Tunisia.We need to peer into the forces that attract so many youths to the world of terrorism. And a large number of them have a high educational attainment. For instance, among the 3000 suspected terrorists arrested in 2014, 90% have had a university degree. (As-sabah daily newspaper,04-02- 2015)
In other words, high impact operations, arrests and confiscations of firearms could be only reassuring to the Tunisian population. And so much the better. But the major challenge remains on how to disentangle the relationship between terrorism, trafficking on the borders, the crisis of secular and religious education, poverty and despair. If such issues are not handled head on, security operations would just be symptomatic treatments of a deep-seated crisis.
The October 2014 International Crisis Group report, while emphasizing the Tunisian success of the political transition, was less optimistic concerning the purely security approach when dealing with the terrorist scourge. It issued two key recommendations: sustainable development policy for frontier zones and taking into account the social and intellectual dimensions of terrorism. We couldn’t agree more.
Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia