This morning when I opened my facebook I found a lot of news about another backlash in Al Ouardia, a suburb of the capital Tunis, between at least 4 extremists and anti-terrorism forces. More news about it can be found here in Arabic. According to the article on Radio al-Kalima fire was exchanged between the two sides after a house was broken into by anti-terrorism forces where the group of extremists were hiding out. At least one of them was killed whereas six others have been caught, according to a source of the security forces. A short video about the operation can be found here on facebook.

Battling militants

It is obvious that after the assassination last week of politician Mohamed al-Brahmi the government has taken all measures and a pro-active attitude to confront militants throughout all of Tunisia. Not only in Jabal Chaambi, a mountain close to the Algerian border where 8 Tunisian soldiers have been killed by terrorists earlier this week. But also in coastal Tunisia and bigger cities such as Greater Tunis, Sousse of Sfax. Anti-terrorism brigades have been carrying out many operations and according to my estimation from what I have read on different websites caught at least 80 people suspected of involvement or linked to (planning) terroristic activities. However, the operations are not only one sided. It is obvious now that some extremists have been preparing themselves as well. Since last week’s assassination clashes increased significantly between security forces and armed groups of extremists. A bomb exploded in a house in Menouba a couple of days ago where the bomb maker involved died himself and his wife got injured. An anti-terror operation this morning led to six extremists being caught and one killed after the exchange of fire. There was an assassination attempt last Friday in Sousse of a well-known politician and exchange of fire in Hammam Sousse between 3 militants and security forces. So what has the government been doing the last year then to combat violent extremists? Well, you can actually distinguish two periods of this government in its attitude towards militancy and extremists. The first period was before the assassination of Chokri Belaid last February when the government was kind of sleeping. Yes, it was well-known there were “some” extremists and their extreme rhetoric was problematic. However, the government was not active enough in dealing with issues of calling to violence and dead threats until things really got out of hand. The second phase and change in its attitude towards extremists was after the assassination of Chokri Belaid. This lead to a much more pro-active attitude in dealing directly with extremists. Nevertheless the threat of terrorism was not yet as serious as it would turn out to be after last week’s assassination and the killing of 8 soldiers of which some of them the throats were also slit. From that moment on tackling terrorism became and will continue to be a national priority by the Tunisian government.

For Tunisians terrorism has also been a new phenomenon. Until the revolution in 2011 terrorism was something the police state of Ben Ali dealt with and frequently used to crack down on any opposition, terrorist or not. The Tunisian citizen however never had to deal with the threat of terrorism nor did he hear of it on television or in newspapers. Which is understandable given the fact that there was no freedom of press whatsoever and terror related issues in Tunisia were never meant to be mentioned in the media. The idea was that Ben Ali offered Tunisians security and therefore Tunisia was able to prosper. How to battle terrorism and why was up to Ben Ali’s regime, not its citizens.

Nowadays terrorism worries every Tunisian citizen. It is a new phenomenon as is open religious extremism in Tunisia. Now of course, terrorism is not only related to religious extremism. However so far there have not been incidents of leftist terror attacks, although you can find some very extreme leftists in Tunisia as well. The challenge is how Tunisian society and politicians will continue to deal with terrorist threats and if the democratic transition is able to somewhat tackle it without compromising on its justice system or freedoms such as freedom of speech.