Tunisia: Few initial thoughts what was the Bardo attack (probably) about

Attack in Tunisia left at least 21 dead including at least 17 foreign tourists. We do not know much about the attackers, but what do you think the target (museum, tourists) tell us about their intentions? Read few comments.

Andrew Lebovich,  Washington-based researcher focused on security issues in the Sahel

We don’t know much yet, though I believe we will know more about the attackers in the coming hours. The intention was clearly to stage a high-profile attack in the heart of Tunis, as multiple militant groups have threatened to do in recent months. It is possible that the parliament was also a target of the attack, though that is not certain at the moment. But this will certainly have an impact on the tourism industry, on which Tunisia is heavily dependent, as well as on the increasing crackdowns of security forces on Tunisians suspected of links to Jihadist as well as Islamist groups.

Aaron Y. Zelin, Richard Borow Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

It’s an attack on Western culture and Tunisia’s tourism industry.

Max Abrahms, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Department of Political Science, Northeastern University

One of my research findings is that people tend to infer the motives of terrorists directly from the observable consequences of their actions. Examples abound. For instance, after 9/11 sporting events were cancelled. People said that we must not stop playing sports because that is apparently exactly what the terrorists want. Similarly, the attacks in Tunisia will no doubt harm the country’s tourism economy, so many people will conclude that that is the point. In truth, we never have direct access into the minds of anyone, never mind terrorists.

Frankly, I am surprised there are not more attacks like this one in Tunisia, for several reasons.

First, Tunisia is the country that has supplied the most foreign jihadists to Syria and Iraq. Estimates range from 2,500-3,000.

Second, Tunisia borders Libya, which is on fire, with growing ISIS influence.

Finally, Tunisia is a new democracy, so the government will be reluctant to engage in countermeasures that curtail liberty, which may be useful for snuffing out terrorist groups.

Given these trends, I expect Tunisia to incur future ISIS attacks.

Aaron MannesResearcher at Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics, University of Maryland

Museums and tourist attractions have long been on the Islamist radar screen. There are multiple, practical reasons for this decision. First, the nations the Islamists seek to undermine are heavily dependent on tourism. Second, it is an opportunity to murder Westerners which garners more press. Islamist antipathy towards the West is deep, so murdering Westerners also feeds their lust for vengeance against the civilization that they feel has done them ill. Western tourists also represent western decadence and frivolity. There may be an even deeper element. Tourism is rooted in curiosity, an interest in the broader world and what people have done. Radical Islam is sharply utilitarian in its worldview. Things that are useful for their ends are good, but study of “pagan” culture (the Bardo Museum which was attacked held Roman antiquities) is not and could even be idolatry. It is related to the ISIS impulse to destroy archaeological treasures in their domain or the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan. Uniquely sad in all of this is that at its peak, when the Arab world was the core a great Islamic empire it produced a terrific body of travel literature as Muslims explored their domain. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see today’s radical Muslims draw from this rich strain of the greater Muslim heritage.

Gilbert Ramsay, Lecturer in International Relations, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews

Since the revolution, Tunisia has witnessed a sharp growth in hard line salafist groups, and a relatively large number of Tunisians have traveled to fight in Libya or Syria, some of them ending up in the Islamic State. Attacks on tourists by hard line jihadist groups are an established part of the targeting repertoire – the famous examples are things like the Luxor shootings in Egypt, but tourists have also been attacked in Yemen. These attacks are serve the dual purpose of targeting unbelievers and attacking and trying to destabilise the economies of the countries where the attacks take place.

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