Tunisia working with UAE on terrorist threat from female Islamist militant returnees

Reuters , Tuesday 26 Dec 2017

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (Photo: Reuters)

The UAE, which angered Tunisia by banning Tunisian women from its passenger flights, has intelligence that female Islamist militant returning from Iraq or Syria might try to use Tunisian passports to stage terrorist attacks, a Tunisian government official said.

Tunisia had demanded the United Arab Emirates apologise for the travel ban - saying that the UAE had provided no explanation - and on Sunday it suspended the Dubai-based airline Emirates from operating at Tunis airport.

Since then, Saida Garrach, an advisor at the Tunisian presidency, told local radio Shems FM that the UAE had "serious information over the possibility of terrorist acts as part of returning fighters leaving Iraq and Syria," and that the two countries were now working together to address the threat.

"There are terrorist plots in several countries," Garrach said in an interview conducted on Monday and posted on the station's website.

"What concerns the United Arab Emirates is the possibility of terrorist acts committed by Tunisian women or by Tunisian passport holders," she said.

Garrach criticised the way the threat had been communicated to Tunisia.

"We are fighting terrorism together with the United Arab Emirates and we are coordinating to solve this problem. But we cannot accept the way Tunisian women are treated and don't accept what has happened to Tunisian women at airports."

Tunisia is among the countries with the highest per capita number of militant Islamists, a problem linked to widespread radicalisation among disillusioned youths and a loosening of security controls after Tunisia’s 2011 uprising.

The military defeat of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in most of Syria and Iraq this year has prompted many foreign militants and their families to go home. IS has also lost its main stronghold in Tunisia's neighbour Libya.

More than 3,000 Tunisians are known to have travelled abroad to wage Islamist militancy, according to the interior ministry. A year ago the interior minister said 800 had come back to Tunisia, where they have been jailed, monitored or put under house arrest.

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