Overview:  Counterterrorism (CT) and border security continued to be a top priority of the Government of Tunisia in 2022.  The risk of terrorist activity remained elevated, exacerbated by sustained Libyan instability.  However, no notable terrorist attacks occurred in 2022.  Tunisia continued to professionalize its security apparatus in partnership with the United States.  Its commitment to joint Ministries of Interior (MOI) and Defense (MOD) CT operations steadily degraded Violent Extremist Organization capacity within the country.  However, the Government of Tunisia misused terrorism-related charges to arrest and prosecute individuals for expression and peaceful activism.  Tunisia demonstrated consistent security force readiness and carried out CT operations throughout the year.  It continued implementation of a national preventing/countering violent extremism strategy and freezing of terrorist assets, and it demonstrated improvements in CT crisis response, coordination, and investigation.

2022 Terrorist Incidents:  There were no terrorist incidents of note in 2022.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  There were no major changes to CT legislation in 2022.

Overall, the Government of Tunisia’s (GOT’s) CT efforts continued to demonstrate advances in successful CT operations and improved coordination between MOI and MOD security elements.  There was cooperation with Embassy Tunis on investigations, prosecutions, and prevention of terrorist activity aimed at U.S. interests in Tunisia and beyond.

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 strategy is meant to include Tunisian civil society and multiple government agencies in countering violent extremism.  CNLCT presented it to the presidency for approval in the fall, and it remained under review at year’s end.

The GOT had specific capabilities to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks against soft targets, such as hotels, stadia, tourist resorts, and cultural sites, in line with UN Security Council resolution 2341’s call for UN member states to improve efforts to protect critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks.  Safeguarding tourist zones remained a GOT emphasis, with work continuing in the context of the G-7+7 Tourist and Cultural Sites Protection project group.

Border security remained a top GOT priority in 2022 owing to continued Libyan instability.  The Tunisian Armed Forces, along with the MOI’s National Guard, successfully employed U.S.-funded patrol craft, vehicles, and weapons in joint operations throughout 2022.  The second phase of the southern electronic border surveillance system, a joint Tunisian-U.S.-German project launched in 2016, was completed in March.  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 provided training in advanced travel document examination.

Regarding the repatriation and reintegration of Tunisians from foreign conflict zones, namely fighters and associated family members, Tunisia did not repatriate any such nationals in 2022.  Tunisia’s ability to reintegrate such individuals remained very limited.  The GOT had limited prosecutorial, prison, and social services-related capacity necessary for rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.

Significant CT-related law enforcement actions against terrorists and terrorist groups reported publicly included the following:

  • Between January 1 and April 1, the MOI announced that 148 terrorist cells were identified and dismantled.  One of the terrorism-linked arrests was a March 16 operation dismantling an ISIS-affiliated cell in the Libyan-Tunisian border region of Tataouine.  According to the MOI, the group manufactured IEDs and recruited youth in the region.
  • On January 10 the MOI arrested a 22-year-old woman returning from Syria.  Investigations revealed that her partner was a known terrorist who had recently been arrested for planning terrorist operations targeting senior government officials.
  • The GOT conducted two significant operations in September that led to multiple arrests, the deaths of wanted terrorists, and the seizure of weapons and IEDs.  The first was along the Algeria-Tunisia border, the second along the Libyan-Tunisian border.  The MOI reported that the targets of the operation along the Algeria-Tunisia border were allegedly part of the ISIS-affiliated Jund al-Khilafah Brigade.  These counterterrorism raids reflected the persistent terrorist threat in the region and along Tunisia’s southern and western borders and highlighted the efficacy of U.S. assistance in improving capacity and interagency cooperation among MOI and MOD forces, both of which are engaged in CT operations.

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since 2015, and President Saied continued to extend it.  Human rights organizations have criticized the repeated extensions for giving the executive extraordinary powers that limit judicial transparency and due process.  Human rights organizations also have objected to the counterterrorism law for its vague definition of terrorism, the broad leeway it gives judges to admit testimony by anonymous witnesses, and the way it can be misused to prosecute individuals for exercising their freedom of expression. The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists has criticized what it characterizes as a pattern of Tunisian authorities’ misusing CT laws to intimidate journalists and activists.

For example, on March 18, the National Guard’s Counterterrorism Unit detained and interrogated Radio Mosaïque FM journalist Khelifa Guesmi, charging him under the country’s CT law for publishing and refusing to reveal his sources for a story covering the dismantling of a terrorist group in Kairouan.  The CT Unit also interrogated Mosaïque journalist Amal Manai and editor Houcine Dabbabi in the same case; Guesmi later was sentenced to one year in prison.

The National Police, the National Guard, and the military continued to benefit from U.S.-provided capacity building assistance, including training focused on investigative skills, interagency cooperation, and tactical skills; embedded mentors within the National Guard and National Police antiterrorism units; and train-the-trainer courses.  The National Guard, the National Police, and members of civil society were trained on community policing techniques, and U.S. assistance rehabilitated and refurbished buildings for community police stations.  Additional assistance included the completion of a National Guard operations room and the renovation of CT judicial facilities.  The first of six tethered aerostat systems were delivered to the National Guard in late 2022, which will provide a long-endurance tactical surveillance capability for a more secure western border.

The GOT continued to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement authorities to prevent acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens or interests in the country; however, owing to significant and troubling democratic backsliding and concerns over the use of CT units to target government critics and other political figures, broader cooperation at times remained challenging and inefficient.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  Tunisia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, and its FIU, the Tunisian Financial Analysis Committee, is a member of the Egmont Group.

In 2022 the CNLCT monitored numerous individuals, organizations, and entities with ties to terrorist organizations and made periodic updates to the frozen assets list.  In October the CNLCT froze the funds and assets of 26 Tunisians suspected of links to terrorists.  As of December 6, the list included 57 individuals, organizations, and entities with ties to terror groups whose assets were frozen.

Countering Violent Extremism:  Tunisia remained committed to preventing radicalization to violence through youth and educational programs coordinated among its ministries and civil society organizations.  The U.S. Agency for International Development’s MA3AN program (“Together” in Arabic) — a 7-year, $60 million youth resilience and community empowerment program, worked with the CNLCT and local and national stakeholders to develop the National Counterterrorism Strategy.  The complementary Solutions to Violent Extremism program worked with local governorates to analyze drivers and dynamics of violent extremism and develop methodologies for countering violent extremism.  In 2022 the Tunisian Scouts expanded their CT Bureau-funded Scouts Impact CVE program to export their CVE merit badge concept to national scouting organizations in Morocco, Algeria, and Libya.  

International and Regional Cooperation:  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.  The MOI agreed to second a representative to a multinational platform focused on battlefield evidence for use in prosecution of foreign fighters.

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