ISIS has been looking to expand its territorial holdings outside of Iraq and Syria as its strongholds there are increasingly targeted by the US and its coalition partners.
The terrorist group that’s also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh now has a significant foothold in Libya, and it might be looking to take on another north African country as well — Tunisia.
Militants are thought to have crossed into Tunisia on March 7 to carry out attacks against Tunisian security forces there, and deteriorating security in neighbouring Libya could allow extremist fighters to infiltrate Tunisia more easily.
In a note published Tuesday, strategic security firm The Soufan Group explained ISIS’ most likely strategy for extending its influence into Tunisia. ISIS will likely “use its positions in Libya to chip away at stability in Tunisia” and wait for the government to falter.
“As long as the group can maintain its operational base in Libya, the risks of repeated direct conflict with Tunisian security forces are unnecessary,” The Soufan Group notes.
“Instead, the Islamic State will continue to establish cells in Tunisia, in the hopes that repeated terror incidents will destabilize the Tunisian government. If the government does falter, the Islamic State will be prepared to strike.”
Tunisian officials are concerned about increased ISIS activity in the country. President Beji Caid Essebsi speculated that the motive of the March 7 attack, if it was indeed carried out by ISIS, could have been to “take control over the region” and announce a new province.
ISIS’ move into Tunisia comes as the US and its partners ramp up attacks against ISIS in Libya. The group’s new stronghold in Sirte has gotten a lot of attention from US lawmakers lately, and the US conducted an airstrike last month targeting an ISIS training camp in Libya.
Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian national who helped move foreign fighters from Tunisia into Libya, was also a target of the strike. Chouchane had reportedly been “recruiting and training Tunisians to carry out attacks in their homeland,” according to The Soufan Group.
Tunisians make up a significant portion of ISIS’ contingent of foreign fighters. The country provides more foreign fighters to ISIS in Iraq and Syria than any other.
Tunisia has been a hotbed of extremism for several years. Just last year, terrorists opened fire at two tourist hotels in the coastal city of Sousse, killing dozens. And months before that attack, terrorists who claimed to be affiliated with ISIS shot and killed 20 foreign tourists at a museum in Tunis.
In any case, Tunisia remains more stable than Libya and the March 7 attack “proved that [ISIS] is not yet strong enough to take and hold territory within the country.”
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