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Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: Tunisia

(February 27, 2023)

Overview:  Counterterrorism and border security continued to be a top priority of the Government of Tunisia in 2021.  The risk of terrorist activity remained high, exacerbated by sustained instability in neighboring Libya, although the frequency and scale of terrorist attacks conducted in 2021 decreased.

Tunisia’s continued work to professionalize its security apparatus in partnership with the United States and its commitment to conduct joint Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense CT operations have steadily degraded violent extremist organization capacity within the country.  Despite COVID-19 challenges affecting national resources, Tunisia demonstrated consistent security force readiness and carried out proactive CT operations throughout the year.  Tunisia continued work on implementation of a national preventing/countering violent extremism strategy and the freezing of terrorist assets, and demonstrated improvements in CT crisis response, coordination, and investigation.

Terrorist Incidents:  On March 11, the Ministry of Defense reported that an IED explosion near Mount Salloum in the governorate of Kasserine killed two children, ages 7 and 9, and injured their mother.  On November 26, police shot and wounded a violent extremist who attacked the Ministry of Interior headquarters in Tunis using a knife and a cleaver.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  Overall, the government’s CT efforts continue to demonstrate advances in successful, proactive CT operations and improved coordination between Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense security elements.  There is substantive cooperation with Embassy Tunis on investigations, prosecutions, and prevention of terrorist activity aimed at U.S. interests in Tunisia.

The Tunisian National Counterterrorism Commission (CNLCT) worked on revising the National Counterterrorism Strategy through a consultative process with ministries and civil society organization stakeholders.  The next five-year plan, which will be completed in summer 2022, strives to be a holistic, whole-of-government and society approach for CVE.  Tunisia has specific capabilities to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks against soft targets, such as hotels, stadia, tourist resorts, and cultural sites, in line with UNSCR 2341 on protecting critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks.  Safeguarding tourist zones remained a government focus, with work continuing in the context of the G7+7 Tourist and Cultural Sites Protection project group.  The number of tourists travelling to Tunisia was reduced by more than 70 percent because of COVID-19.

Border security remained a top government priority in 2021 because of continued instability in Libya.  The Tunisian Armed Forces, along with the Ministry of Interior’s National Guard, successfully employed U.S.-funded patrol craft, vehicles, and weapons in joint operations throughout 2021.  Phase 2 of the southern electronic border surveillance system was completed in 2021.  The maritime coastal surveillance system continued to provide full coverage along the entire Tunisian coast.  As part of interdiction and border security support efforts, the United States has provided training in advanced travel document examination.

The government has limited prosecutorial, prison, and social services capacity for rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.  Significant CT-related law enforcement actions against terrorists and terrorist groups included the following:

  • In April, authorities reported they dismantled an ISIS affiliated terror group in Sfax, disrupting an imminent terror attack in the process.  Authorities reportedly seized significant amounts of raw materials for making explosives and electronic devices.
  • In April, authorities conducted an operation against Ajnad al-Khilafah (the Army of the Caliphate, affiliated with ISIS), eliminating known terrorists and seizing weapons.
  • In January, authorities arrested the leader and members of a terrorist cell affiliated with the Okba Ibn Nafaa group.

Tunisian police, the National Guard, and the military continued to benefit from U.S.-provided capacity building assistance including training focused on interagency cooperation and investigative and tactical skills; embedded mentors within the National Guard and National Police antiterrorism units; and train-the-trainer courses.  Additional assistance included funding for a National Guard Operations room and renovation of CT judicial facilities.  The government continues to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement authorities to prevent further acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens or interests in Tunisia.  However, owing to internal government bureaucracy, broader cooperation at times remained challenging and inefficient.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  The CNLCT in December froze the funds and assets of six Tunisians suspected of links to terrorist crimes.  As of December 31, Tunisia had designated 142 individuals, organizations, and/or entities as having links to terror groups, freezing their assets as part of that designation.

U.S. efforts to support counterterrorism finance investigations included trainings to identify potential misuse of cryptocurrencies.  The United States also sponsored Tunisian government participation in the November regional MENA Money Laundering Conference in Bahrain that focused on regulatory expectations and compliance.

Tunisia launched the online platform Hannibal in January, which increased information sharing on hard currency transfers in real time to improve cooperation between law enforcement and the private sector.    

Countering Violent Extremism:  Tunisia remained committed to preventing radicalization through youth and educational programs coordinated among its ministries and civil society organizations.  In October, the U.S. Agency for International Development launched the MA3AN program, a 5-year, $48 million resilience and community empowerment program focused on preventing violent extremism at the community and national level.  Tunisia’s ability to reintegrate Tunisians from foreign conflict zones remains limited.  The Ministry of Family and Women’s Affairs in collaboration with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees held two workshops in June and December focused on CVE and repatriation of FTFs and associated women and children. 

International and Regional Cooperation:  Tunisia held a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2020-21.  Tunisia is a board member for the International Institute of Justice and Rule of Law, participated in Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS events, and is a recipient country for CVE assistance from the Global Community Engagement and Resiliency Fund.

Source: Country Reports on Terrorism 2021, U.S. Department of State, (February 27, 2023).