Tunisian President, Beji Caid Essebsi
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi on Saturday declared a state of emergency following last week’s beach massacre claimed by the Islamic State group in which 38 foreign tourists were killed.
In another firm response to the June 26 attack, several officials were sacked including the governor of the Sousse region where it took place.
The North African state, which has seen an exodus of tourists, has admitted that its security services were unprepared for the seaside attack in Port El Kantaoui and that police were too slow to respond.
“The president has declared a state of emergency in Tunisia” and was to address the nation, Essebsi’s office said, adding that it would be implemented for a renewable 30-day period.
A state of emergency, granting special powers to the police and army, was in force for three years up until March 2014, following longtime secular president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster in a 2011 revolution.
Apart from allowing the barring of strike action and unauthorised meetings, the measure allows the authorities to carry out raids on homes at any time of the day and to keep tabs on the media.
Independent political analyst Selim Kharrat questioned the timing of Essebsi’s announcement, eight days after the beach attack, and warned that a state of emergency “could become an excellent tool of repression”.
An aide to Tunisia’s prime minister said Saturday that several officials including the Sousse governor and from the assailant’s home town and from where he studied, as well as police officers, had been sacked.
“Just as there have been security failures, there have also been political failures,” the premier’s communications adviser Dhafer Neji said.
Tunisia has faced a post-revolution surge in jihadist violence in which dozens of police and soldiers have been killed.
The beach shooting was the second such rampage in three months, after another jihadist attack at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18 that killed 21 tourists and a policeman.
Tunisia had already stepped up security after the museum attack and announced in the wake of the beach killings that it would deploy armed guards on beaches and close 80 mosques suspected of fanning Islamist extremism.
On Friday, Prime Minister Habib Essid acknowledged that police had taken too long to respond to the attack in Port El Kantaoui near Sousse.
“The time of the reaction – this is the problem,” Essid told the BBC in an interview. Police had been “blocked everywhere”, he added.
Essid spoke as Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron led a minute’s silence for the victims, 30 of whom were British.
Tourists fled in horror as a Tunisian identified as 23-year-old Seifeddine Rezgui pulled a Kalashnikov assault rifle from inside a furled beach umbrella and went on a shooting spree outside a five-star hotel.
Three Irish nationals, two Germans, one Belgian, one Portuguese and a Russian were also killed before the assailant was himself shot dead.