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One thousand arrested in Tunisia since museum attack

AFP | Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid (3rd from left) alongside the manager of the hotel in Port El Kantaoui where 38 people were killed in June.

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid revealed on Friday that 1,000 people have been arrested and 15,000 prevented from fighting jihad abroad in the wake of recent deadly attacks on the Bardo National Museum and a beach resort.


Essid said that since the attack on the Bardo National Museum in March, which claimed the lives of 22 people, his government has carried out 7,000 security operations.

The prime minister’s comments come one day after the British foreign office advised its nationals against non-essential travel to Tunisia, warning that further attacks were “highly likely”. Thirty of the 38 people killed in last month’s attack on a beach resort in the southern Tunisian city of Sousse were British.

While Essid said that his government would help evacuate Britons from the country, he added that he intended to speak to British Prime Minister David Cameron later in the day about repercussions of the decision.

"We did everything in our power to protect [British] citizens and their interests, as well as those of all other countries," he told lawmakers during a debate on security on Friday.

Thousands of tourists rushed to leave the country Friday as Britain warned that another attack was “highly likely”.

UK warning criticised

Tour operators put on extra flights to return some of the estimated 3,000 Britons holidaying in Tunisia.

But Tunisia’s ambassador said the warning would play into the hands of militants, noting they would feed on the hopelessness that would grip the country if its tourism industry collapsed.

Thousands of Tunisians in Syria

The French foreign ministry, meanwhile, said it was not planning on following Britain’s example in urging its nationals to refrain from holidaying in Tunisia.

"Our 'advice to travellers' underlines the terrorist risk in Tunisia and the ongoing threat from jihadist terrorist groups," foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal told journalists.

"It recommends that French citizens be particularly vigilant. Several regions of the country bordering Algeria and Libya are formally discouraged," he said, adding that the travel advisory was based on an analysis of security threats and the measures taken by the Tunisian government to deal with them.

Tunisia’s parliament is currently debating counter-terrorism legislation that rights groups say would threaten hard-won freedoms. The government says its compatriots must allow limits on some freedoms to ensure their security, amid increasing threats from the Islamic State (IS) group and extremists in neighbouring Libya.

UN experts on Friday warned that almost 5,500 Tunisians are estimated to be fighting alongside jihadists abroad, urging Tunis to adopt a "national strategic plan" to curb the flow.

"The number of Tunisian foreign fighters is one of the highest among those travelling to join conflicts abroad such as in Syria and Iraq," said Elzbieta Karska, current head of a UN working group on the use of mercenaries.

Karska said about 4,000 Tunisians are believed have joined Islamist militant groups in Syria, between 1,000 and 1,500 in Libya, 200 in Iraq, 60 in Mali and 50 in Yemen. She added that some 625 people who have returned from Iraq are now being prosecuted.

During the security debate, Essid admitted "shortcomings" in the government's security efforts but said authorities are working to remedy them.

"The security situation remains fragile, and terrorist threats still exist," he said. "Our country is going through a delicate situation, and is in danger."



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