France, Tunisia Hold Talks on Islamist Extremism After Church Terror Attack by Tunisian Migrant

Tunisian
FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images

(AFP) — French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin held talks Friday in Tunisia on how to tackle Islamist radicalisation, after a deadly attack in Nice last month allegedly carried out by a Tunisian jihadist.

Darmanin held talks with Tunisian President Kais Saied and Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine and was due to meet other officials.

Sources close to Darmanin said ahead of the talks that he would submit to authorities a list of some 20 Tunisians who France wants to expel, on the basis that they had been convicted on terrorism charges or were suspected of jihadist inclinations.

The French interior minister is due to visit Algeria on Sunday on a similar mission.

Public opinion in Tunisia is hostile towards the return of suspected jihadists, and authorities have refused the return of their citizens from France on the basis of travel restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tunisian nationals have constituted a significant proportion of foreign jihadists in Syria, Iraq, and Libya over the last decade.

In 2015, the United Nations said that some 5,000 Tunisians had flocked mainly to Syria and Libya to join the Islamic State group (IS), while authorities in Tunis gave a lower figure of 3,000.

Their return has been a cause of concern in Tunisia, which has been under a state of emergency following a string of IS-claimed attacks in 2015 and 2016.

Sources close to Darmanin say that 70 per cent of over 230 foreigners illegally in France and suspected of radicalism are from the Maghreb region, which includes Tunisia and Algeria, and from Russia.

His visit to Tunis was scheduled some time ago but it takes on new urgency following the October 29 killing of three people at a church in the southern French city of Nice.

The alleged perpetrator of that attack, 21-year-old Brahim Aouissaoui, is not the first Tunisian suspected of carrying out a deadly jihadist attack in Europe.

In 2016, 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ploughed a truck into a Bastille Day crowd on the Nice seafront, killing 86 people.

Later that year fellow Tunisian citizen Anis Amri, 24, carried out a similar attack at a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people.

The Islamic State group claimed both men as its followers.

It is unclear if Aouissaoui was radicalised at home or after he arrived illegally in Europe in late September.

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