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Tunisia and the 26 June attacks in France and Kuwait

Notes on the attacks by Jon Marks

It has yet to be confirmed – unlike the near simultaneous attack in Kuwait – but the murderous attack on a tourist beach in Sousse bears several hallmarks of Daesh (Islamic State). It seems certainly to have been carried out by Jihadist gunmen.

  • The Tunisia attack involved extreme, symbolic violence. Like today’s French beheading and Kuwaiti mosque bombing, the murder of ‘decadent’ Europeans sunning themselves provides stunning images of ‘bodies on the beach’. This could be classic Daesh, or were some of these atrocities carried out by psycopaths beyond any formal command-and-control mechanism?
  • It also carried an implied appreciation of the economic and political impacts – Tunisia’s tourism industry* and image of ‘secular’ political stability was targeted. This was also apparent in the Bardo Museum attack in March, which was attributed to Daesh.
  • As a real sidebar for the afficionadi, one Tunisian gunman was said to have arrived on the beach by boat. That’s how the Israelis arrived to kill the PLO’s Abu Jihad near Tunis all those years ago…

Were all these attacks co-ordinated, by a command-and-control structure within Daesh’s self-proclaimed Caliphate?

  • Some analysts have already jumped to this conclusion, but IS does not necessarily work like that. Outside Iraq and Syria, it seems to be a decentralized franchise: in some cases, existing Jihadist groups and individuals bolt themselves on to it, rather than being constituted by an ‘IS Central’.
  • The French killer seems to have been a ‘lone wolf’ with a profile known to the Police. Did he receive an order? The Charlie Hebdo killers did; but that came from Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni arm – a different combo. But this is far from clear in this case.

Other groups cannot be ruled out. The late (possibly) Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group split in recent months over rival Al-Qaeda/Daesh loyalties. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula lost its leader Nasir Al-Wuhayshi in early June, and revenge there might be an issue.

Daesh has claimed responsibility for the Kuwait attack: again a matter of extreme symbolism, being carried out against an ‘apostate’ mosque on the second Friday of Ramadan.

  • It follows the Shia mosque attack in Saudi Arabia’s heavily Shiite Eastern Province that killed 21 people on 22 May. Following the worst terrorist attack inside the Kingdom since 2004 – and the first attack in Saudi Arabia to be claimed by Daesh – IS’s local branch issued a statement warning Shiites of “black days” ahead.

The second Friday in Ramadan question may be worth exploring.

  • During the 1990s Algerian conflict, the GIA and other Jihadist groups routinely upped their levels of violence during the Holy Month.

In Tunisia, frustrations in the south – reflected in industrial action and protests in Kebili and mining towns Gafsa and Métlaoui – have been boiling again; these genuine economic grievances have long found political expression (who remembers the 1984 ‘bread riots’ that started in Kebili, or the miners’ strikes that were the harbinger of the Jasmine Revolution that did for Ben Ali?)

  • This region is where the Tunisian ‘Daesh franchise’ has been operating.Logistical and other support from Libya (where IS got adherents in the traditionally radical Islamist Derna and moved outwards) has added to concerns.
  • This is added to the ‘low-level’ – but still intransigent – Jihadist insurgency in the mountains around Kasserine (where rebels have received support from Algerian jihadists).
  • To these pressures are the estimated (how accurately? It has become common currency) Tunisian jihadists in Syria. They come out of alienated Salafyst groups – who are in conflict with the Nidaa Tounes-led government, but also the main mainstream opposition, the Islamist Ennahda party.

Presumably, government efforts to strengthen the military (which was traditionally kept small and lean in Tunisia) will receive even more Western support.

  • A major economic package is necessary – Tunisians are among those attracted to the ideas of a new ‘Marshall Plan’.
  • It is unclear what the ‘West’ has to offer other than throwing money at the problem. (And that could fall foul of conditionalities).

* Thomas Cook and other travel agents were still selling holidays at Port El Kantaoui during the afternoon of 26 June – but tourist trade analysts say they won’t be for long.

  • Not only will this blight Tunisia’s efforts to build up its tourist trade, there could be knock-ons across the region, notably Morocco – which has stayed beyond the IS narrative – and Egypt.
  • This is a region where tourism and associated industries are a significant component of GDP (equivalent to nearly 15% of Tunisian GDP in 2014). It also officially provides nearly 7% of all jobs – and more when ‘informal’ employment is factored in.
  • Tunisia’s elected government has been bedding-in by trying to introduce socially acceptable, growth-generating economic policies. This will obviously undermine this.

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