Tunisian politician Lotfi Nabli heads the Tunisian Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee. He talks about precautions that the local government is taking to defend the country against further extremist attacks, such as the building of a trench on the Libyan-Tunisian border and a crackdown on corruption within local security forces.

What can you tell us about the wall which the Tunisian authorities apparently intend to build between Tunisia and Libya?

Tunisian politician Lotfi Nabli heads the Tunisian Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee. He talks about precautions that the local government is taking to defend the country against further extremist attacks, such as the building of a trench on the Libyan-Tunisian border and a crackdown on corruption within local security forces.

What can you tell us about the wall which the Tunisian authorities apparently intend to build between Tunisia and Libya?

It is not a wall in the true sense of the word because the Tunisian government cannot afford the high cost of building a wall. The government actually intends to dig a trench. The resulting boundary will be thrown up parallel to the trench to prevent smugglers, terrorists and arms and drug dealers from crossing. Ultimately this will protect both the Tunisian and Libyan populations.

The Tunisian-Libyan border is not very well marked though. And some now fear that the Tunisian government is going to cross into Libyan territory, especially as they are the ones responsible for the construction of this boundary.

Both the Tunisian-Libyan and Tunisian-Algerian borders are marked and agreed upon. One of the things that the late Tunisian leader, Habib Ben Ali Bourguiba, did was to come to a compromise with Tunisia’s neighbors on this issue, in order to avoid territorial conflicts in the future. So we have no fear of any such encroachments. We have made significant concessions.

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, the Tunisian government usually puts the blame on Libyan terrorists. That is even though most of the perpetrators of these attacks in Tunisia and Libya are actually Tunisians.

That is untrue because most terrorist leaders are really from Algeria. And there is a link between Libya and Algeria; most of the terrorist training camps are in Libya. Even the extremist groups in Jebel ech Chambi and the Atlas mountains were trained outside of Tunisia. These groups are not big, with not more than ten members. At most, there are two brigades planning on carrying out terrorist attacks in these mountains.

Extremist training camps existed in Libya under Gaddafi, who protected them. Since his fall though, these camps have been exposed. Most of them exist in Tripoli and Misrata.

But you don’t hear much about extremist camps in Misrata. You hear about them mainly in Derna, Benghazi, Sirte, Sabratha and other places in the south.

Yes, we have intelligence about the existence of such camps in all these cities. The training of extremists there is not specifically for them to carry out operations in Tunisia but for them to control centre those in Libya.

Sometimes these extremists are convinced to come over to Tunisia by Tunisian extremists to carry out certain operations.

So according to that, you believe there is a security problem in Libya that terrorists are exploiting. Some have even come from Europe. So what role are European countries playing here?

At one time Europe was a haven for religious extremism. This is especially true for the United Kingdom, which was most affected by the recent terrorist attacks in Sousse, and which today claims to be fighting terrorism. [UK Prime Minister David] Cameron has spoken about the search for the mastermind of this terrorist attack and this has raised concerns in both Tunisia and Libya. Where is this mastermind? And what exactly was the UK doing while terrorist cells were thriving in their own country?

Are the Tunisian and British governments cooperating to find this “terrorist mastermind” then?

There is cooperation in the fight against terrorism in general. Cooperation is the right thing to do and the Tunisian law allows it. However foreign investigators are not allowed to interrogate Tunisian suspects. They can attend interrogations and they can follow up on investigations but the actual interrogations must be carried out by a Tunisian investigator. Any questions that foreign investigators want to direct to the suspect can only be asked through this Tunisian officer.

The Tunisian Anti-Terrorism Law of 2003 is controversial and incomprehensive. There have been demands to amend it so as to protect citizens and security forces. A draft amendment has been presented to the legislative committee so that we are able to combat terrorism without prejudicing personal liberties or media freedom.

The Tunisian authorities have arrested nearly 5,000 persons for terrorism-related charges and this has also raised a problem around incarceration. This applies especially to the prisons overcrowded with terrorists. Those terrorists are a ticking time bomb that could explode any time, causing an immense security problem. We have plans to separate the terrorist suspects from the rest of the prison population so that the extremists do not recruit the other prisoners and cannot brainwash them.

Libya is currently divided into two political zones. So which of the two Libyan governments does the Tunisian government deal with on security issues?

In general, the Tunisian government has official communication with the interim government in Bayda because it is recognized by the international community. However, there are also unofficial relations with the Libya Dawn government and this is so that we are able to safeguard the interests of the Tunisian community in the areas that Libya Dawn controls.

With anything related to terrorism, the Tunisian government deals with both governments on intelligence. A Tunisian consulate was re-opened in Tripoli but it was closed after only a short period following the abduction of diplomats last June. The consulate offices are now at the border so that it’s still close enough to members of the Tunisian community. Basically we have to deal with the reality of life in Libya today.

What sort of policy does the Tunisian government currently have in relation to instances of bribery and corruption among Tunisian security forces? After all this rampant corruption sometimes facilitates the entry of terrorists, weapons and contraband.

We raised this issue in our last meeting with the Minister of Interior and he is very keen to pursue this issue. Special mechanisms will be in place at all levels and the Ministry of Interior is subject to restructuring. In addition, many inspectors will be carrying out checks on all border points, especially at border points where illicit activity is suspected.

Corruption certainly exists and anyone who denies that has their head in the sand. That is just denying reality. If you deny reality, you won’t change anything. And I want to add that individuals are removed from their jobs every day because of violations in this area.

Do you think some political parties in the Tunisian Parliament are defending terrorist groups?

A fine line separates liberty and human rights from the fight against terrorism. Should you cross that line, you will be a dictator, and if you cross it from the other side, you support terrorism. As a result it is very difficult to strike a balance between fighting terrorism and upholding human rights.

The Tunisian authorities have suspended flights to western Libya but we have heard news that there is an air route opening up between Zintan airport in Libya and Tunis. Do you know anything about this?

No, I don’t. But we support the opening of such a route and we welcome any attempt to build bridges between the Libyan and Tunisian people because imposing collective punishment is illogical. We cannot punish the Libyan people just because certain groups have acted illegally. The Tunisian and Libyan people are bound together by history and by fraternal bonds.

We don’t have a problem with the Islamist groups who control the airports. Our problem is only with radical Islamist groups. We are all Muslims and Islam is far from extremist. Terrorists use drugs, they gamble, they commit adultery, they launder money, they steal and take part in organized crime – there is obviously nothing like that in Islam.

Does the Tunisian government deal with the Syrian government, which has said it has intelligence regarding terrorism in Tunisia?

Certainly. We have relations with the al-Assad regime and there are diplomats in Syria in charge of Tunisian embassy affairs. We maintain relationships with any parties that provide us with news about terrorism. Democracy in Syria will be decided by the Syrian people themselves and we have nothing to do with that.

Do you agree with the statements made by Tunisian politicians that the Libya Dawn militias are the ones who are preventing the extremist group, ISIS’ advance into Tunisia?

It is true that Libya Dawn has a problem with ISIS but it is not an ideological problem. They disagree on oil resources. We must rely on ourselves, not on Libya Dawn or any other group. We deal with Libya Dawn for the benefit of our citizens in Libya and not because we want to be protected from ISIS, or because we fear ISIS. The Tunisian army, our security officers, and the Tunisian citizens are the people we rely upon, should there be any attack from ISIS. We also rely on our strategic allies.

And if Libya Dawn is actually standing against the advance of ISIS, then why can’t it protect itself? How is it that ISIS managed to control Sirte when Sirte was under the protection of Libya Dawn first? I would suggest that first Libya Dawn must protect itself, then talk about protecting others.