By John R. Bradley
July 16, 2016
Remarkably, Tunisia is still claimed as a model for peaceful democratic transition by deluded champions of the 2011 Arab Spring that swept across North Africa.
However, the grim reality on the ground tells us a very different story. For that reason, it should come as little surprise that the perpetrator of the latest Islamic State-inspired atrocity, 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, held dual French-Tunisian nationality.
At break-neck speed, this tiny North African country – once known only for its sun-baked beaches and liberal social mores – has been transformed from a bastion of progressive secularism into a crucible of Islamist terror.
The terrifying reality is that Bouhlel’s act of almost unimaginably brutal carnage is just the latest in a string of sickening attacks that highlight the role of young Tunisian-born men in orchestrating Islamist terror attacks at home and throughout the world.
Indeed, since the ousting of authoritarian President Ben Ali in a popular uprising five years ago, there have been no fewer than five major terrorist attacks claimed by Islamic State inside the country – whose capital, Tunis, is located just 90 miles across the Mediterranean from Sicily.
The embattled government (the country’s first democratically elected president took office two years ago) says countless more major assaults have been foiled at the last minute.
Twenty-one mostly European tourists were massacred inside the capital city’s most famous museum in March 2015.
And three months later, 38 more mostly British holidaymakers were mercilessly gunned down by another ISIS-brainwashed fanatic on a beach near the resort town of Sousse. That is also the place from which the Nice attacker Bouhlel reportedly hailed.
Small wonder Tunisia is now considered off-limits to all but the most intrepid European travellers.
If all that were not bad enough, despite having a population of just ten million, Tunisia has also been the leading supplier of Islamic State foot-soldiers in the terror group’s self-declared caliphate, which straddles war-torn Syria and Iraq.
Some estimates suggest that as many as 7,000 Tunisians have left to fight for the Jihadis.
The Tunisian government has also announced that up to 15,000 others have been banned from travelling because they were suspected of being ISIS sympathisers.
Unsurprisingly, Tunisians also form the vanguard of Islamic State’s increasingly menacing presence in Libya.
Thus when a US airstrike last year targeted a suspected Islamic State training camp near the capital, Tripoli, almost all of the 50 fighters killed were reportedly Tunisians.
Now, one of their countrymen has brought appalling bloodshed to the French Riviera – and all the indications are that this attack is merely a harbinger of much worse to come on the European mainland.
While it is good news that Islamic State forces are being defeated and pushed back in Iraq and Syria, one knock-on effect is that thousands of battle-hardened Tunisians are now heading back to the Libyan training camps, or to their home towns.
This is particularly alarming because ISIS has spelled out, in newsletters and on social media, a very detailed plan, not only to flood Europe with Muslims – by turning the Middle East into a war zone and thus displacing millions of people – but also to exploit the resulting chaos by sneaking hundreds of Jihadis into Europe among the refugees. One of their principal goals is to decimate the crucial tourism industries in countries like Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia.
This has been achieved with ruthless efficiency through bomb attacks on tourists in Istanbul, the downing of a Russian holiday jet over Egypt last year, and that beach attack in Tunisia.
As those tourist industries collapse, ever-larger numbers of young men find themselves unemployed and in despair – and thus ripe for radicalisation.
The next stage of the ISIS plan is to recruit as many of them as possible, and launch them across the Mediterranean into Europe.
When they arrive, there instructions are simple: cause as much death and mayhem as possible.
Islamic State has called for all who pledge allegiance to its cause in Europe to attack ‘infidels’ with whatever they can lay their hands on – including vehicles, poison and even rocks.
That, of course, is exactly what Bouhlel did on Thursday night to such devastating effect.
ISIS has for some time used large trucks driven at high speed to recklessly kill civilians and sow continuous mayhem in Iraq and Syria.
It is terrifying to think that copycat attacks could now become a feature of life in Europe – for they remove the need for terrorists to acquire bombs or guns. They simply need a driving licence.
At this stage, the only thing that seems certain is that ISIS has a clear plan to instigate an Islamic insurgency in the heart of Europe, and the steely determination to bring it to fruition. Their hope must be to sow intense discord between the Muslim and Christian populations until we move towards a kind of civil war that would sweep up ever-more people into its deadly embrace.
This is a chilling threat which our political leaders and security forces appear troublingly ill-prepared to acknowledge, let alone eradicate.