The main goal of terrorism is to spread fear and anxiety amongst the civilian population. Terrorists want to break down the population’s daily security; replacing it with a climate of terror that changes our lifestyle. Unlike what happened in Paris, where the target of the jihadists were journalists who had insulted Allah, in Tunisia, the victims were regular people who were simply on holiday.
Ordinary people who are going to work or on vacation are the preferred victims for terrorists. These victims are favored because hitting them gets the best result. The whole world has identified with the ideas of the journalists who were slayed in Paris. In this case the terrorists have received a response to their attack. They have failed to defeat freedom’s ideals as represented by the magazine called Charlie Ebdo. The Bardo Museum attack on the other hand was hit because it affected ordinary people, who were on vacation. The foreign tourists had not offended anyone, certainly not Allah. From Tunis, the terrorists’ message comes clear: nobody should feel safe and this concept is amplified, loudly, by the mass media.
These days Italian television channels broadcast images and video of what happened inside and outside the Museum: people who ran away, their screams, and Tunisian police responding to the terrorist attack. A few days after the museum was hit, a journalist reached the city of Savona, where he met with the passangers of the Costa cruise ship “Fascinosa,” to interview the survivors, emphasizing this word, survivors.
Some of the passengers who were in the area of the Museum or near the victims were swept away by the interviews. Were they tired? Were they afraid? What was the worst moment? Interviewees – not many thankfully – responded logically led by a sense of insecurity and fear more than anything. How should they respond? They were victims twice over, once by the terrorists and then a second time by media stupidity.
The victory of the jihadists was sanctioned by the decision taken by another company of cruise ships, MSC (from Genoa). The Company executive has decided that for entire year of 2015 that no ship will dock in the port of Tunis, preferring other safer destinations. The goal of the terrorists has been achieved.
The attack is the most devastating strike against civilians in Tunisia since the April 11, 2002 bombing at the El Ghriba synagogue. Italy was touched by ISIS and this time more directly. The Tunisian authorities have admitted their responsibility. For a country that is so dependent on tourism, safety of museums and archaeological sites must be a priority. Although Tunisia rationally managed its “Arab spring” better than many other countries in the region, is not immune from jihadist infiltration.
Remote areas of the country are threatened by Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade and Ansar al Sharia: the first having claimed the attack against the tourists. Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade (which has strong ties to AQIM – Al Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb) is the most operational as they often attack the soldiers who guard the border with Algeria in the region of Jeebel Chambi, murdering 15 soldiers in July of 2014 for instance. After all, we should not forget that Tunisia has exported about 3,000 volunteers to fight in Syria with ISIS against Assad’s army.
The Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade is allied with Ansar al-Sharia, which has strongholds in Algeria, which is also the main base for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The origins of AQIM date back to the late nineties, tracing to the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Group Islamique pour la Prédication et le Combat – GSPC), a faction of the fearsome Armed Islamic Group (GIA). The new terrorist group, led by Hassan Hattab, began to enjoy the favor of Osama bin Laden who had temporarily broken ties with the GIA because they committed atrocities against Algerian civilians and Muslim brothers, brutal tactics that were not permissible under Al Qaeda’s ideology.
In a few years, GSPC become the dominant Islamist terrorist group in Algeria. The merger with Al Qaeda took place in 2006 when the leader of the GSPC was Abdelmalek Droukdel, also known as Abu Musab Abd al-Wadoud. As soon as AQIM began their collaboration with Al Qaeda they also shifted their strategy. Notably, they improved their recruitment efforts and the group changed its tactics in order to emphasize suicide attacks and VBIED’s. One of the most destruptive was the 2007 bombing of the UN office in Algiers. The instability within the Maghreb region has provided AQIM with opportunities to expands its influence. The terrorist group played an important role in Libya by spreading terror.
The relationship between ISIS and the Al-Qaeda affiliated groups has never been easy. For example, in July 2014, AQIM questioned the Islamic State’s decisions regarding the establishment of the Caliphate, confirming his allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to Al Qaeda’s leader the proclamation of the Caliphate had to be a unanimous decision among the jihadist groups, not only of Al-Baghdadi. However, last year Al Zawahiri attempted to rally support in the Islamist world to be united against common enemies: the west in general and the United States specifically. In this last period, relations between the two terrorist groups seem to be good. In a proclamation made by Sheikh Abdullah Othman al-Assimi, the leader of AQIM, explained that, “My group wants to build friendly ties with ISIS, you are dearer to us than our tribe and family, and you will always have our support.”
Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia. North Africa is on fire again.
Each of these States has had its “Arab Spring” hailed by the European democracies as a new hope for the region, but those hopes were soon sunk by a power vacuum that has strengthened the positions of the Islamists. ISIS is not defeated, it seems to multiply, hiding and then reappeared under different names in other regions of the world.