When analysed by qualification, university graduates make up the largest proportion of local Tunisian terrorists. The finding is according to a study by the newly established Tunisian Centre for Research and Studies on Terrorism (CTRET). The study was presented at a conference hosted by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), who established the new research centre.
Ridha Raddaoui, head of CTRET, said the centre has relied on data registered in court records, calling for generalised studies on the phenomenon of terrorism in Tunisia. Currently the main actors, networks and ideology are not sufficiently known. Raddaoui also indicated that the centre intends to create a helpline for victims of terrorism to know their concerns and be able to anticipate their actions.
Developed by lawyers and specialists, the study covered a sample of over 1,000 terrorists, 965 of whom were men and 35 women. It is based on 384 court records presented over five years, starting from 2011 to 2015. The results showed that 40% of those in Tunisian terror groups hold a university degree, considerably higher than many other countries. Further, 33% of those studied had a high school diploma and 13% had completed vocational training. In terms of age ranges, the highest number of terrorists belonged to the 25 - 29 year age margin, followed by the 30 - 34 year group, and the 18 - 24 group. Despite other more clearly delineated results, there was some variation in the distribution of jihadis within Tunisia. Most came from the governorates of Sidi Bouzid and Tunis.
The city of Sidi Bouzid is the site of Mohammed Bouazizi’s death from self-immolation in 2011. Despite having a university degree, Bouazizi struggled to even sell goods on the street from a cart. The event marked the start of the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Tunisia, toppling the 23 year authoritarian reign of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The Jasmine Revolution eventually became known as part of the Arab Spring, popular uprisings spread across North Africa and the Middle East.
“Mass frustration is suspected by the CTRET in leading to high levels of university graduates joining terror groups at home.”
Bouazizi’s actions highlighted a desperate situation too well understood by many university graduates across Tunisia who, to the dismay of all, have not experienced better circumstances post-revolution. At the end of October this year, in the western border town of Kasserine, 27 unemployed graduates deliberately ingested toxic substances outside the regional governorates headquarters in a mass suicide attempt. Earlier this year, a Tunisia Live video posted to YouTube, entitled ‘The Choice Between a Job and Death’, features young hunger strikers in Kasserine who sewed their mouths shut over their frustration with government inaction. Unemployment among the city’s university graduates stands at 33.4% and its impacts continue to unfold into a massive crisis for the city’s population.
“There are many unknowns as to why people join terror organisations.”
This mass frustration is suspected by the CTRET in leading to high levels of university graduates joining terror groups at home. Supporting this theory, the Global Terrorism Index 2015 states that in addition to an individual’s socio-economic, political and ideological world views, long-term youth unemployment has been identified as one of the possible reasons behind the decision to become fighters for violent extremist groups. The same 2015 report indicates that Tunisia, of 167 indexed countries, ranks 47th for the direct and indirect impact of terrorism in terms of lives lost, injuries, property damage and psychological after effects.
While Tunisia is suffering from the effects of highly educated individuals joining terror groups at home, it is also impacted by many people leaving its shores. Out of all foreign fighters joining violent extremist groups, Tunisia ranks number one in the world. The highest proportion of foreign fighters in the Islamic State are Tunisian, and the same is true for Al-Qaeda groups in various locations around the world.
There are many unknowns as to why people join terror organisations, and the newly established Tunisian Centre for Research and Studies on Terrorism hope to try fill in the gaps which exist in current knowledge. What is known is that CTRET’s first report highlights the monumental battle that Tunisian society faces in addressing a range of issues from terrorism to socio-economic opportunities for the country’s university graduates.
Furthermore, as terror groups seek educated recruits their operations may well become more organised. The combination of socio-economic factors and more powerful, efficient terror groups presents a significant problem for Tunisia.