The extremist group ISIS claimed responsibility for Wednesday's deadly shooting at a Tunisian museum that left 23 dead and nearly 50 injured. But why ISIS allegedly attacked Tunisia, according to CBS News, is somewhat of a mystery. SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. company that monitors militant organizations, broadcasted the recording Thursday, in which Islamic extremists hailed the two gunmen who died during police fire as "knights of the Islamic State." The recording did not detail the group's supposed motives behind the attack, but a look at Tunisia's recent history, and how the country is pulled between the Western and Arab worlds, could provide a glimpse as to what would have made the country an ISIS target.
Tunisia, often called a success story by Western countries, is somewhat of an island in an otherwise tumultuous region of the world. Rather than fall into civil war like Libya and Egypt did after the Arab Spring, the small North African country successfully adopted a new government and has since held two free elections. Tunisia, which long drew droves of foreigners to its resort beaches and ancient ruins, had begun to see new life in its tourism industry as well.
It is also one of the most cosmopolitan and secular of the Arab countries. Under the new Constitution, Tunisian women have the right to vote, and women politicians hold 31 percent of seats in Parliament. To put it in perspective, women in the U.S. Congress make up just 20 percent of representation.
Tunisia, however, has the distinction of being the country that has contributed the most foreign fighters to ISIS. An estimated 3,000 Tunisians have left and joined arms with Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria since 2011. That number would have been dramatically higher had the government not stopped several thousands more.
In 2014, the Tunisian government banned ISIS support, but that hasn't prevented the country from becoming a haven for extremist opinions. The New York Times reports that ISIS support isn't just prevalent — it's unabashedly out in the open. According to the Times, ISIS appeals the most to young Tunisian men because they see the fledgling government as ineffective and are disgruntled by low employment. To them, ISIS promises a higher standard of living and an opportunity to unite the Arab world. One 27-year-old, Bilal, told the Times:
The division of the countries is European. We want to make the region a proper Islamic state, and Syria is where it will start.
If ISIS really was behind the attack on the Tunisian museum, why the Muslim-majority country was the militants' next target could be a combination of its two positions. In a way, Tunisia has become a Western trophy that proves a democratic and secular government can survive in the Arab world. But the country has also proven to be a nearby breeding ground of extremism, where thousands of men and women who have left to join ISIS could now be returning home with its message.
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