Magharebia (Washington DC)

14 August 2013

Tunisia: Citizens Join Fight Against Terrorism

Tunis — Tunisian citizens are actively taking part in the country's counter-terrorism efforts.

Civilians in the Kasserine town of Oued Hatab chased down three armed terrorists who escaped from Jebel Chaambi after clashes with the army last Friday (August 9th).

Only days earlier, counter-terrorism personnel were surprised to see citizens gathering around them while they were trying to control eight members of an extremist group fortified in a house, in the Tunis suburb of Ouardia.

A number of enthusiastic citizens approached the scene of the August 4th confrontation and offered their services in spite of the danger. Others chanted the national anthem to motivate the Special Forces.

"I was psychologically ready to chase one militant if he tried to escape," 18-year-old Makrem Ouertani told Magharebia. "The residents of the neighbourhood and I devised a plan to close all outlets in their face."

Tunisian security forces killed one terrorist suspect and arrested six others that day.

A similar scene took place in the coastal province of Sousse two days prior. A militant fled a siege when two of his fellow fighters surrendered, but locals gave chase.

Although the fugitive carried a Kalashnikov, young people carrying sticks, knives and stones pursued him.

On the dawn of August 1st, a truck owner in the border town of Tabarka helped arrest an Algerian national who was attempting to cross the Tunisian border into Algeria with a Kalashnikov, a pistol and several bullets. The truck driver sent light signals as he approached a border checkpoint.

The customs agent summoned Special Forces, who arrested the alleged terrorist. He is now under investigation in Tunis.

The interior ministry has asked citizens to notify security forces about any suspicious activity.

"I don't find any embarrassment in personally going up to security forces to inform them," Said Barhoumi, a worker in his 50s, said. "All Tunisians must be vigilant to preserve the country's safety."

According to the judicial police district in Tunis, the telephone never stops ringing. Most callers are citizens offering services to the police.

"I am following what a number of enthusiastic citizens are doing by approaching dangerous zones during raids on terrorists' strongholds," the head of the security forces union (UNSFST) told Magharebia. "This is a positive and a negative thing at the same time," Montassar El-Matri said.

The support of the public "motivates security personnel to do their missions and gives them the feeling that they are not alone in this tough battle against terrorism", he added. "However, those people put their own lives on the line, especially as the militants don't care where their guns go when holed in a corner."

"The comprehensive security we're now talking about takes into consideration citizens' contribution to the discovery of crimes," the union official said.

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