Tunisia plans to build a barrier across much of its 300 mile border with Libya to prevent terrorists from crossing over from its war-ravaged neighbor.
Prime Minister Habib Essid announced the project, which is already being constructed, in a televised address on Tuesday. The barrier, which would cover about a third of the border with trenches and sand fortifications, is intended to "stop terrorist groups from infiltrating," he said.
Tunisia has recently suffered a wave of terror attacks from individuals with links to Libya. On June 26, Seifeddine Rezgui — a Tunisian national whom friends say received training in Libya — opened fire on a beach resort in Sousse, killing 38 tourists. On March 18, three gunmen who also trained in Libya killed 22 people in an assault on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.
Libya descended into a multi-party civil war after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, and its border region with Tunisia became increasingly porous. Tunisia has struggled over the past three years to maintain order as thousands of migrants have stormed crossing points and overwhelmed border guards. The country closed its main border crossing and fired tear gas last August when thousands of foreign nationals tried bursting through a fence.
In October 2014, the so-called Islamic State (IS) announced that it had established an affiliate in Libya. IS claimed responsibility for both the Sousse resort and Bardo museum attacks.
In remarks delivered on Tuesday, Essid warned that sealing the border would prove "very difficult." He hinted that Tunisia would secure outside funding from international partners for a network of electronic checkpoints along the border, but did not elaborate. Tunisian officials expect the barrier to be completed before the end of the year.
The barrier is part of a wider government anti-terrorism initiative. Shortly after the Sousse attack, Essid ordered the closure of 80 mosques that he accused of "spreading venom." Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi declared a state of emergency a week later, giving the authorities the power toarrest anyone whose "activities are deemed to endanger security and public order." Demonstrations or gatherings viewed as a threat can also be banned, and control can be exercised by the government over various media.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch warned that the emergency decree, which lasts up to 30 days and is renewable, risks trampling on human rights in the government's effort to fight terror.
"Tunisia's security challenges may call for a strong response, but not for sacrificing the rights that Tunisians fought hard to guarantee in their post-revolution constitution,"Eric Goldstein, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said.