Tunisia woke up yesterday, Monday October 29th, to an unconventional terrorist operation when a young woman blew herself up in a crowd of police officers in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the heart of the capital, Tunis.
The suicide attack took place a few metres away from the premises of the Tunisian Ministry of Interior, and the French Embassy. Brigadier Waleed Hakema, a spokesman for the Tunisian National Security service, said the suicide attacker was killed and another 20 persons injured, among them 15 police officers and 5 civilians, two of which were children.
Officials said the attacker was 30 years-old, originally from the city of Mahdia on the Tunisian east coast, and a graduate of the Higher Institute for Languages, with an English language major. According to a statement by the Ministry of Interior, the attacker did not have a criminal record or known affiliation with extremist groups.
"It is a true disaster and it is very painful. The security forces are the ones that always pay a price in blood,” said Beji Caid Essebsi, the Tunisian president, in a statement. He said the attack was against the whole country and the authority of the state. He added, “Terrorism is still in the heart of the city, we thought we were done fighting terrorism in cities and had confined it to the mountains, but it is back again.”
Munia Arfawi, a Tunisian researcher and author of Women and Terrorism: A Gender Study told 7Dnews, "I realised that the experience of Tunisian jihadi women is distinct from that of other jihadi women. I studied dozens of cases of Tunisian women who joined domestic and transnational terrorist groups, and those women have not been lured or forced to do things, but rather were actively involved in the planning of events.”
Arfawi said, "It was clear that the defeat of Ansar al Sharia and the decreasing influence of Isis in Tunisia is going to be followed by a stage that is not less important or aggressive. The collapse of those organisations does not mean the defeat of the cause. These organisations only bowed down to the storm but will bounce back to express themselves, just like the show-off operation in Habib Bourguiba Avenue.”
According to Arfawi, the operation is meant to attract local and international attention, for a woman to blow herself up in the heart of the capital, near the Ministry of Interior and a number of embassies has many implications and is directly linked to previous terrorist operations.
Hadi Yahmed, a Tunisian journalist specialising in Islamist groups, said that having a woman execute the attack conveys a message from the terrorist groups in response to the August 2018 report by the Commission of Individual Liberties and Equality, which was deemed controversial for granting equality between men and women.
Yahmed said, "Terrorist groups are aware of the social and political context. We have witnessed the "Tunisian Women’s Revolution" throughout 2018 and the report from the Commission of Individual Liberties and Equality is one of its results. We have witnessed protests organised by conservative women before the parliament against equality and specifically against equality in inheritance. They have threatened a backlash if equality is established. Of course, not all those who opposed equality in inheritance are potential suicide bombers, but the bomber of Bourguiba Avenue is directly influenced by this context. It is an aggressive message from the extremist groups for the modern feminist movement, saying there are Tunisian women of a different nature.”