Magharebia (Washington DC)

Tunisia Terror Threats Cast Shadow On New Year's Eve

Tunis — Despite warnings from the Tunisian Interior Ministry about possible terrorist operations during New Year's Eve celebrations, citizens are going ahead with plans for the event.

Resort hotels are promoting special packages, while the streets of the capital are lined with billboards of foreign and Tunisian artists set to perform on December 31st.

Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou on December 4th warned of possible terrorist operations at the New Year.

A week later, Colonel Major Taoufik Rahmouni, the defence ministry spokesman, said that Tunisian armed forces were "dealing seriously with a vast amount of information on potential terrorist threats that the country may be exposed to during New Year's Eve celebrations".

Likely targets of terrorist groups include tourist destinations such as Djerba Island, Hammamet and Sousse, Akher Khabar daily reported in December 11th.

Six members of a terror cell were arrested on December 5th for planning a suicide attack similar to the Sousse bombing of October 30th, interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said.

According to Aroui, "a group active in Libya's Derna recruited young suicide bombers to carry out operations in Tunisia" but the recruits were arrested by Tunisian security forces before they could act.

Tunisian terrorist organisation Ansar al-Sharia, which has been linked to the killing of soldiers in Jebel Chaambi, the assassinations of opposition politicians Chorki Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, and the attack on the US embassy in Tunis, could even resort to using women in suicide attacks on December 31st, the daily Assarih suggested.

But tourism professionals refuse to let such talk mar their plans for what is always a lucrative season.

Mokhtar Benour, a promotion specialist at a tourist resort, said, "The threats haven't changed any of our programmes."

"Reservations even reached their peak, given that the offers are attractive to local tourists after the number of foreign tourists dropped," he added.

Foreigners are still coming to Tunisia, said Fadoua Abbassi, a hotel marketing professional.

"Many French tourists who were accustomed to spending the Christmas holidays in Sousse insisted on not changing their habits," she told Magharebia.

"I knew from some colleagues on the field that hotels and restaurants in Sousse are fully reserved, and that clients of all nationalities and local clients, both Christians and Muslims, will sit together to share Christmas joy," she added.

Meriam al-Lafi, an employee of a private sector company, is among the Tunisians who refuse to let terrorists dampen the festive spirit.

"We have to challenge them, rather than give in to their will," she said. "They want to sow fear in us, and because of that, I, my family, and some friends decided to exaggerate in our celebrations just to tease those people so they may know that terrorism has no place in Tunisia."

Tunis resident Shehab Lahmar, however, is unwilling to take any chances. "When the Interior Minister talks about threats, then they aren't rumours," he said. "I refuse to throw my family into a risky adventure."

But according to Tourism Minister Jamel Gamra, Ben Jeddou's statements "don't mean that there are direct threats".

"He just wanted to raise people's awareness so they can be more vigilant," Gamra told Shems FM on December 12th.

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