30 June 2015, Tunisia

01 July, 2015 Security

On 27 June, the Tunisian government announced increased national security measures in the wake of the 26 June Sousse hotel massacre that killed as many as 30.

This was the second time this year that the Tunisian government announced stronger security measures for tourist areas. Muir Analytics reported on the first government announcement in April just after the 18 March Bardo Museum massacre in Tunis. At the time of that announcement, the government gave no intricate details of its security plan. Now, however, the government is telling more. Here’s what it’s said so far:

First, the AP quoted Prime Minister Habib Essid as prefacing the solution: “The fight against terrorism is a national responsibility. We are at war against terrorism which represents a serious danger to national unity during this delicate period that the nation is going through.”

Second, the government has announced the mobilization of some 1,000 military troops to protect resort areas. The troops are to come from the army reserves and deploy not just around tourist sites and hotels, but also inside hotels if managers want them.

Third, the Tunisian Interior Minister, Najem Gharsalli, said his ministry was deploying 1,000 police officers to hotel and tourist sites, reports Reuters.

Fourth, PM Essid has asked hotels to augment their own security in conjunction with the government’s efforts.

Fifth, because of the rapid spread of ISIS radicalization, the government said it was closing 80 mosques and shutting down various political parties it deemed threatening to national security.

Sixth, the police have launched a countrywide investigation into the apparent network that supported the one named gunman who perpetrated the massacre, 24-year old Seifeddine Rezgui. (Reporting by several eyewitnesses and victims said there was more than one gunman, a story that continues to develop.) Police have arrested at least seven suspects in Sousse, Kasserine, and Tunis.

While Riu Hotels and Resorts has not released any statement on hotel security in Tunisia, it did release a message of condolence to the victims and praise for the remarkable acts of bravery and caring demonstrated by the local Tunisian staff. Travel Agent Central has the statement here: “Riu Hotels and Resorts Responds to Tunisia Terrorist Attack.”

Ultimately, PM Essid sees protecting hotels, resorts, and tourists in a severely heightened threat environment – because of ISIS and like groups – as a national imperative, not simply a private hotel security issue. Moreover, Tunisia is enacting not just physical security and investigations, but also “counter political warfare.” The latter entails fighting the ideological battle that ISIS, al Qaeda, and their franchises have been winning for years, resulting in recruits, bombings, and massacres.

Having said this, the Tunisian government will certainly increase military and police operations against known and suspected hostile groups. In turn, these groups will fight back against the government, and Tunisia will likely become embroiled in a war – albeit a low intensity one. Because of Tunisia’s proximity to Libya and Algeria’s ungoverned areas that ISIS and like groups occupy or traverse, the country will have extreme difficulty in quelling the Islamist jihadist threat. As a result, the tourist sector will suffer unless the government turns resort and hotel areas into impenetrable secure zones. Then the government would have to lure back tourists from all over Europe and the UK, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that holidaymakers were safe and secure.

The chances of this happening in the near and/or intermediate term are slim to none. An anecdote reported by the Irish Examiner demonstrates even local Tunisian hotel staff have a bleak outlook. Said a tourist fleeing the Sousse massacre:

“When we left, the hotel manager was crying, staff were crying, the staff asking us would there be jobs for them in Ireland. I met a lady at the bathroom at the airport and she just kept saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’.”

Sources and further reading:

Tunisia pledges tough security post-attack, as tourists flee,” AP via My Way, 27 June 2015.

Armed Tunisian police swarm streets of tourist towns,” Reuters, 28 June 2015.

Tunisia Massacre: ‘There was more than one gunman’,” Irish Examiner, 30 June 2015.

Tunisia attack: Arrests over Sousse massacre,” BBC, 29 June 2015.

Tunis museum attack: 20 people killed after hostage drama at tourist site,” The Guardian, 18 March 2015.

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