Although ca­su­al­ties were lim­ited and the at­tack re­mains un­claimed, the Tu­nis bomb­ing has ex­ac­er­bated di­vi­sions in the coun­try’s estab­lish­ment

The National - News - - NEWS - SI­MON SPEAK­MAN CORDALL Tu­nis

Tu­nis is still com­ing to terms with the sui­cide bomber who det­o­nated her de­vice on Av­enue Habib Bour­guiba in the cap­i­tal’s busy city cen­tre shortly be­fore 2pm on Mon­day.

Although ca­su­al­ties were lim­ited, and the at­tack re­mains un­claimed, its reper­cus­sions will be far reach­ing.

The bomber, a 30-year-old woman from the tiny set­tle­ment of Sidi Aoun, came to the cap­i­tal where eye­wit­nesses claim to have seen her min­gling with demon­stra­tors in the city cen­tre protest­ing over the shoot­ing of Ay­men Oth­mani, 19, by cus­toms of­fi­cers the pre­vi­ous week.

Af­ter the demon­stra­tion she made her way over to one of the many po­lice pa­trols in the heav­ily mil­i­tarised area, which is the site of the coun­try’s In­te­rior Min­istry. There she det­o­nated her ex­plo­sives, killing her­self and wound­ing 20 peo­ple, 15 of whom were said to be se­cu­rity of­fi­cers.

Mo­hamed Iq­bel Ben Re­jeb, who heads an or­gan­i­sa­tion li­ais­ing be­tween the govern­ment and the fam­i­lies of Tu­nisian fight­ers abroad, was work­ing near by. “I thought in the first place that it was a tear­gas bomb ... but then I told my­self that the sound had been too loud,” he told The Na­tional.

Af­ter leav­ing his shop, only yards from the site of the ex­plo­sion, Mr Iq­bel was able to see the full scene. “I saw that there were peo­ple who had run away in panic, and I heard a per­son talk­ing about a ter­ror­ist at­tack, so I went to the spot to see.” How­ever, the se­cu­rity forces had al­ready be­gun to re­spond to the in­ci­dent.

“The po­lice then started to grad­u­ally sur­round the lo­ca­tion, be­fore clos­ing Av­enue Habib Bour­guiba and it be­came like a desert,” he said.

Although much is now known about the bomber, an un­em­ployed grad­u­ate with an English de­gree who oc­ca­sion­ally worked as a shep­herdess, her mo­ti­va­tion for trav­el­ling to Tu­nis and det­o­nat­ing a bomb re­mains a mys­tery.

“From the in­for­ma­tion we have now, the at­tack seems per­pe­trated by a lone in­di­vid­ual with weak, if any, links to a mil­i­tant group,” said Lu­dovico Car­lino, a se­nior an­a­lyst for the Mid­dle East and North Africa with IHS Markit.

“No one has yet claimed the at­tack and the woman was not known to Tu­nisian se­cu­rity ser­vices, which carry out dozens of ar­rests of sus­pected militants ev­ery week.”

The bomber’s method also raised ques­tions.

“The dy­namic of the at­tack, with only the per­pe­tra­tor killed and dozens of peo­ple slightly in­jured, also sug­gests that only a small amount of ex­plo­sive ma­te­rial was used or that the de­vice was poorly con­structed, in­di­cat­ing a rather am­a­teur­ish at­tempt,” Mr Car­lino said.

How­ever, any rush to dis­miss the sig­nif­i­cance of the at­tack on one of Tu­nisia’s most heav­ily guarded streets was prob­a­bly pre­ma­ture.

“It’s rel­e­vant that the at­tack was car­ried out in such a high-se­cu­rity lo­ca­tion in cen­tral Tu­nis aim­ing at the se­cu­rity forces, and I’d not ex­clude the pos­si­bil­ity that the woman re­ceived sup­port from some­one else,” Mr Car­lino said.

“The fact that it was a woman, a first in Tu­nisia, is also quite telling, as it leaves open the pos­si­bil­ity that the per­pe­tra­tor was in­flu­enced by the re­cent ISIS pro­pa­ganda urg­ing women to take a more ac­tive and mil­i­tant role.

“This would be a quite strong in­di­ca­tor that the ISIS nar­ra­tive is still able to rad­i­calise in­di­vid­u­als, even if its for­tunes in Iraq and Syria ap­pear to be de­clin­ing,” he said.

The at­tack also came at an in­tensely sen­si­tive time for Tu­nisia’s po­lit­i­cal estab­lish­ment, with the gov­ern­ing par­ties seem­ingly frac­tur­ing by the day.

Fur­ther to the ap­par­ent con­flict be­tween the coun­try’s prime min­is­ter, Youssef Cha­hed, and its 91-year-old pres­i­dent, Beji Caid Essebsi, is the splin­ter­ing of the po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus around the dom­i­nant role played by the mod­er­ate re­li­gious En­nahda party, and its sup­port for Mr Cha­hed, the pres­i­dent’s main ri­val.

Speak­ing from Ger­many, where he was at­tend­ing an in­vest­ment con­fer­ence, Mr Essebsi’s ini­tial re­ac­tion to the at­tack was strik­ing and in Tu­nis was widely in­ter­preted as an at­tack on his po­lit­i­cal com­peti­tors, not least the prime min­is­ter.

“There is a rot­ten po­lit­i­cal cli­mate,” Mr Essebsi said. “We are too fix­ated on po­si­tions and ri­val­ries and for­get the essen­tial – the se­cu­rity of cit­i­zens.”

That the at­tack will be­come the stag­ing ground for a new front in Tu­nisia’s end­less po­lit­i­cal bat­tle looks in­evitable.

Tu­nisia’s me­dia have al­ready drawn links be­tween Mon­day’s city cen­tre sui­cide bomb­ing and mount­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of En­nahda’s al­leged role in the 2013 as­sas­si­na­tions of left­ist politi­cians Chokri Be­laid and Mo­hamed Brahmi.

“Anti-En­nahda groups will use the at­tack against En­nahda, ac­cus­ing it of com­plic­ity and call­ing for the prime min­is­ter to re­sign, be­cause of his ‘fail­ure’ – ac­cord­ing to them – and for a new govern­ment to be formed, one with­out En­nahda,” Youssef Cherif, a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant said.

“This will, in turn, in­crease po­lar­i­sa­tion and open the way for pro-au­thor­i­tar­ian el­e­ments in so­ci­ety to make more ag­gres­sive de­mands of the govern­ment,” he said.

The ISIS nar­ra­tive is still able to rad­i­calise in­di­vid­u­als, even if its for­tunes in Iraq and Syria ap­pear to be de­clin­ing LU­DOVICO CAR­LINO An­a­lyst

The mother and rel­a­tives of a sui­cide bomber who blew her­self up in Tu­nis on Mon­day. The bomber, a woman aged 30, had a de­gree in English and was un­em­ployed, pros­e­cu­tors said AFP

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