Tunisia builds border fence to keep out terrorists

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 2/09/16, 02:47 pm

Tunisia has completed the first part a 125-mile barrier at its border with Libya in an attempt to keep out Islamic militants. But the elaborate structure won’t do anything to stop home-grown terror, a problem demanding a much more complex solution, analysts say.

Work on the barrier, made of sand banks and water trenches, began last summer after two attacks by Libyan-trained terrorists killed more than 50 people, including tourists. Defense Minister Farhat Horchani said the second part of the project would involve installing electronic monitoring systems that American and European military trainers will show Tunisian forces how to operate.

Today we finished closing it off, and this will help us protect our border and stop the threat,” Horchani said on Saturday.

Libya has battled against political instability since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Islamic State militants now control the Libyan town of Sirte, and the ongoing crisis makes Libya a hub for training terrorists and smuggling weapons, leaving Tunisia vulnerable.

“There’s a legitimate threat, both of terrorists coming across the border, but also there’s been a really big smuggling problem of both people and weapons and drugs from Libya,” said Sarah Yerkes of Brookings Institute.

Security forces claim the border defenses already have helped reduce smuggling. Local authorities also expect the fence to curb the flow of trained terrorists coming into Tunisia to execute attacks. But the efforts do little to quell Tunisia’s internal threat.

Tunisia is the lead contributor to foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, with more than 3,000 people leaving the country to join jihad. The outflow began during the 2011 Arab revolution that led to the country’s democracy. But not much has changed since then. The streak of protests in recent weeks caused by lack of employment opportunities highlights the country’s stagnant economy.

“They’re in much worse conditions than they were before,” said Maha Yahya of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Unemployment has gone up, poverty has gone up, inflation has gone up, and the economy has gone down.”

Experts point to the failing economy as one of the many reasons Tunisians join militant groups. Tunisian officials must address that if they want to insulate the country from terrorism, analysts say.

“If you don’t address the problem, it doesn’t matter if you seal up the border because the people who are in Tunisia are going to be inspired to commit attacks at home,” Yerkes said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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