Cablegate: Tunis 2008 Annual Overseas Security Advisory


DE RUEHTU #0071/01 0241158
R 241158Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 07 STATE 168473


CRIME: The Department of State rates Tunisia a medium threat
country for crime. The most common criminals are
pickpockets, purse-snatchers and snatch-and-run cell-phone
thieves who primarily work in the high-traffic tourist areas
such as the Tunis medina and the central market, as well as
other large Tunisian cities. Beach resorts present a mix of
snatch-and-grab, vehicle break-ins, and scam attempts due to
the large number of tourists who vacation in Tunisia
especially during the summertime. Target selection tends to
focus on persons who appear unfamiliar with their
surroundings or those who are dressed in expensive clothing
or jewelry and otherwise draw attention to themselves.

Thieves, usually single males, will often target western
women walking alone and then rob their victim (day or night)
once the opportunity (no bystanders or passing vehicles)
presents itself. Young men on motor scooters will pass women
on the street and, while one drives the scooter, the other
snatches a handbag or cell phone from the victim as they
speed by. Sometimes, the victim is thrown to the ground
causing serious injury if she does not release her bag.
Although vehicle break-ins occur frequently, vehicle theft
and carjackings are rare.

Burglaries are occurring with more regularity, but do not
exclusively focus on the expatriate community. Privately,
many Tunisians acknowledge that crime is on the increase as
the growing middle class offers criminals more opportunity
for theft. Since most burglaries are crimes of opportunity,
a well-secured home is often reason enough for the thieves to
move on. With this in mind, middle class Tunisian families
have taken measures to improve their residential security by
installing grillwork over their windows and doors.
Residential break-ins occur often during the day when homes
are unoccupied, although occupied break-ins are not unheard
of. It is best to keep doors locked, even when the residence
is occupied. It can be assumed that burglars are prepared
for confrontation, but are generally not predisposed to it.

Although criminals are prepared to be confrontational, most
generally avoid gratuitous violence. For the most part,
crimes of stealth are usually committed by a thief who is
unarmed or armed with non-lethal weapons. However, it has
also been noted that criminals will rifle through a woman's
purse on a crowded bus or train, undeterred by onlookers. In
this regard, visitors are advised to guard their possessions
carefully when riding public transportation. It is also
becoming more common for victims to notice their bag or
jacket was sliced and valuable contents stealthily removed
after walking through or standing in a crowded area.

Violent crime remains relatively rare in affluent areas where
most expatriates reside. It is illegal to possess a firearm
without government approval and the government will authorize
approval to carry a firearm only in the most grievous and
extreme circumstances. Even then, a heavy burden is placed
upon the citizen to justify the request.

If you are victimized, immediately proceed to the nearest
hotel or shopkeeper who can direct you, or will call for you,
the nearest police officer. Police are generally omnipresent
at the beach resorts during the summer tourist season and do
have some success in capturing these criminals when given a
good description of the perpetrator.

SAFETY: The most significant safety threat a visitor to
Tunisia faces is the indigenous style of driving. Among
their many traits, local drivers rarely look before changing
lanes, commonly run through red lights and are generally
oblivious to other vehicles on the road. Traffic police man
intersections throughout Tunis and other major cities.
Police are known to pull vehicles over for speeding, reckless
driving or to check papers.

Due to the local driving style in Tunisia, short-term
visitors are discouraged from driving themselves. Visitors
and residents alike should always wear seatbelts and are
strongly encouraged to bring an approved car seat for infants
and young children. Infant and child seats are difficult to
locate and expensive to purchase in Tunisia.

If you do drive in Tunisia, practice good defensive driving
skills. Ensure sufficient braking distance between your
vehicle and those in front of you. Remain conscious of
individuals that may materialize in the median or shoulder
and cross the street disregarding the approaching traffic.
When stopped at a light, beware of pedestrians crossing

between the waiting cars. Scooter drivers often ride near
the right shoulder and may not be easily visible, especially
when cars travel at higher speed or at night.

Vehicle accidents often attract a crowd of onlookers but
these crowds seldom become violent or angry. Individuals
involved in traffic accidents are not required to file a
police report unless there are injuries as a result of the
collision. In that case, all injured persons must be
transported to the nearest medical facility and must file an
accident report as soon as possible. Most public hospitals
have police on-site to facilitate the reporting process. For
routine accidents, both parties must complete and sign a
"constat amiable," which is forwarded to their respective
insurance agencies for resolution.

Drivers should be aware that if they are involved in a motor
vehicle accident which results in death or serious injury of
another person, the police may take them into protective
custody until they are absolved of responsibility. This can
mean spending a period varying from one day to two months in
detention. As with any arrest or detention overseas,
Americans taken into custody should immediately request that
the police inform the Embassy of their whereabouts.

Alternatives to driving include taxis, which are generally
cheap, safe and reliable. The government of Tunisia
regulates taxis and requires that drivers use meters. Do not
enter a taxi with other fares and do not allow your taxi
driver to pick up other individuals. If you feel that a taxi
driver is taking advantage of you, write down his taxi number
and inform the police. Because tourism is so vital to
Tunisia's economy, the police have been known to track down
and arrest dishonest drivers.

Trains are generally safe. Travelers should refrain from
boarding any train that is overcrowded to avoid pickpockets
(see Crime above). Visitors are discouraged from using
public buses as they are not well maintained and women have
reported being groped, especially during peak periods when
they are overcrowded. Private and charter buses are
generally better maintained and usually limit the number of

2. POLITICAL VIOLENCE: Tunisia is a moderate, Muslim country
that has enjoyed peace and political stability since gaining
its independence from France in 1956. Despite the heightened
tensions in the region since the September 11 terrorist
attacks and the war in Iraq, the Government of Tunisia
continues to promote moderation and encourage engagement in
the Middle East peace process.

Anti-American rhetoric in Tunisia has largely been confined
to media criticism of U.S. regional policies and individual
expressions of frustration. The Embassy is unaware of any
acts of violence perpetrated against American interests,
public or private, as a result of the war on terrorism or
related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, a
synagogue in the island of Djerba was the target of a
terrorist attack on April 11, 2002 for which al-Qaida claimed
responsibility. Twenty civilians were killed.

More recently, in December 2006 and January 2007, the
Government of Tunisia announced that Tunisian security forces
engaged and disrupted a terrorist group, killing or capturing
many individuals who reportedly planned to carry out acts of
violence in Tunisia. According to official government
reports, the U.S. Embassy in Tunis was among the group,s
intended targets. In December 2007, thirty individuals were
given varying sentences for their involvement in these
events. In light of this, the U.S. Embassy in Tunis reminds
all Americans to maintain a high level of vigilance in regard
to their personal security and to remain aware of local
developments. Suspicious incidents should immediately
reported to local police and the U.S. Embassy.

Tunisian President Ben Ali continues to place a high priority
on fighting terrorism and maintaining law and order.
Tunisia's dependence on tourism as a source of convertible
currency has contributed, in part, to the continuedQxpansion
of the internal security services. Police are highly visible
and ensure that the country's image remains one of tranquil
stability. The focus on security and a growing economy have
helped Tunisia avoid many of the problems faced by other
nations in the region. One of the few outbreaks of political
violence in the country's history took place in 1991 when
members of the local Islamic party committed acts of violence
after it had been banned by the government. The government
ultimately arrested and prosecuted nearly 250 of its members.

Small demonstrations occur occasionally on university

campuses and typically protest fee increases, salary levels
for professors, and administrative policies. Other
politically motivated demonstrations are rarely allowed but
do break out occasionally on university campuses. These
activities are not considered a threat to Tunisia's stability
and have not targeted American interests. The police handle
most protests and demonstrations peacefully and without
incident; however, police will not hesitate to use force to
break up a protest or demonstration in order to quell the

3. POST-SPECIFIC CONCERNS: U.S. businesses or American
citizens living in or visiting Tunisia should be aware that
English is not widely spoken in Tunisia. Individuals without
the ability to communicate in French or Arabic will find
conducting personal or professional business difficult.
Women face no specific dress restrictions but conservative
clothing helps avoid attracting undue attention and
harassment. Reports of verbal and occasionally physical
harassment of women are reported. However disagreeable, the
U.S. Embassy recommends against responding physically to
incidents of harassment due to the risk of sustaining further
harm should the situation escalate. Injuries or physical
violence have generally not been associated with harassment
in Tunisia and most incidents end quickly if the perpetrator
is ignored or reported immediately to a nearby police officer.

When driving, ensure that doors are locked and windows rolled
up to avoid being victimized by opportunists at intersections
and stoplights. U.S. Embassy reporting indicates that this
type of street crime is more prevalent in the downtown,
crowded sections of Tunis; less prevalent in the more
affluent neighborhoods and the northern suburbs of Tunis.

During the winter months, extended downpours have been known
to overwhelm Tunis,s storm drains and flood streets. The
city will effectively shut down due to washed-out roads as
bypasses become overburdened with diverted traffic.

The threat of kidnapping is not a significant issue in
Tunisia's major cities. Travelers to sparsely populated
areas near the Algerian border in the Sahara should exercise
extreme vigilance since kidnapping in that region cannot be
ruled out. Should a kidnapping occur, the U.S. Embassy
expects the police would respond appropriately.

Use and possession of illegal drugs and drug trafficking are
serious offenses in Tunisia. Persons arrested for these
crimes can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia and can be punished by
imprisonment. Possession of pornography can also lead to

There are no known private security firms that have trained
personnel who can provide executive protection services to
visiting businessmen and businesswomen. Additionally, the
Tunisian Ministry of Interior does not allow its police
officers to act in this capacity while off-duty.

The U.S. Embassy is unaware of any private security or law
firms who are licensed to conduct private investigations in
Tunisia. Should American businesses require such services,
the U.S. Embassy strongly recommends contacting the Regional
Security Officer for advice on how to proceed. Depending on
the nature of the request, either the Regional Security
Officer or Commercial Attach will facilitate introductions
to appropriate Tunisian Government officials or provide a
reference list of law firms who have reputably represented
American business firms in Tunisian.

Federal Express, DHL, and other multi-national express
delivery services can provide service to Tunisian addresses
through a link with the Tunisian "Rapid Poste" System. The
system works fairly well, but Tunisian customs routinely
opens express mail envelopes and packages for inspection,
even when clearly labeled "documents." While the U.S.
Embassy knows of no cases of theft or loss of material
related to express mail delivery, American business
representatives should be cognizant of the possibility of
review and/or loss of corporate proprietary information when
using these services as well as delays in delivery.

Travel in the desert areas of southern Tunisia requires
research and planning. Many roads are unimproved and even
well-traveled routes are subject to blowing sands that can
create hazards for vehicles. Persons driving off the major
paved roads are encouraged to ensure that their vehicles are
appropriate for off-road driving conditions and are equipped
with appropriate spare equipment and supplies including water
and food. The Tunisian National Guard encourages persons
traveling into the desert to register their travel

beforehand. For details and how and where to register,
please visit the U.S. Embassy desert travel page at travel.html.

4. POLICE RESPONSE: The Tunisian police are relatively well
trained and professional. Many senior officials have
received advanced training in Western Europe or the United
States. Acutely aware of the need to maintain its image
abroad and protect Tunisia's tourism industry, the police are
generally responsive to visitors in need of assistance, and
they ensure that their presence is particularly high in
tourist and other areas frequented by foreigners. Police
checkpoints are set up after dark in many areas. Some
Tunisians and foreigners, including American citizens, have
said the police occasionally solicit small gratuities from
them. However, the American citizens affected did not
believe that they had been singled out or targeted.

By law, Tunisian police officers can, and do, conduct random
traffic stops. Drivers are required to show their Tunisian
identity card or residence permit and vehicle registration.
For this reason, visitors should always have a copy of their
passport on their person. Visitors who are briefly detained
by the police are encouraged to remain cooperative and
professional, traits that the police appreciate and that may
assist in expediting a quick resolution to an arbitrary
police stop. Further, insulting the police is illegal and
people have been imprisoned for it.

The national police provide security in major urban areas,
while the paramilitary National Guard (equivalent to the
State Police in the U.S.) is responsible for other areas,
including the nation's roadways. Police and National Guard
personnel are generally responsive to the needs of visitors
but speak very limited English, if any at all.

Crimes should be reported immediately to the nearest police
officer. Speak with the hotel desk clerk or concierge when
you need police assistance. When in public, most
storeowners, shopkeepers or taxi drivers can direct you to a
nearby police officer or summon one for you.

Police (Police secours): 197
Fire Department: 198
Ambulance (SAMU): 190

5. MEDICAL EMERGENCIES: Medical care in Tunisia is adequate
with a number of new, private "polyclinics" available that
function as simple hospitals and can provide a variety of
procedures. Specialized care or treatment may not be
available. Facilities that can handle complex trauma cases
are virtually non-existent. While most private clinics have
some physicians that are fluent in English, French is used by
the medical establishment and all of the ancillary staff in
every clinic communicates in Arabic and/or French. Public
hospitals are over crowded, under equipped and under staffed.
Nursing care in all clinics, private and public is very
underdeveloped and in some cases poor or non-existent.

Well-equipped ambulances may not be available outside of
urban areas. Even in urban areas, emergency response times
can be much longer than in the U.S. Doctors and hospitals
expect immediate cash payment for health care services
although some hospitals may accept credit cards.
Over-the-counter medications are available; however,
travelers should bring with them a full supply of medications
that are needed on a regular basis. The U.S. Embassy has a
list of doctors who can be contacted for emergency

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions,
such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite
protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers
at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX
(1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's internet site at For information about outbreaks
of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health
Organization's (WHO) website at
Further health information for travelers is available at

Medical Resources in Tunisia ) The U.S. Embassy assumes no
responsibility or liability for the professional ability or
reputation of, of the quality of services provided by the
medical professionals, medical facilities or medical services
whose names appear on the following lists. Names are listed
in no particular order.

Private Ambulance Services

Allo Docteur- Allo Ambulances, Tunis: 71-780-000 /
71-781-000 / 71-780-884 / 71-841-979
Ambulance Echifa, Tunis ) 71-585-999 / 98-243-552
Amen La Marsa Ambulance, La Marsa: 71-749-000
Apollo Ambulances, Tunis: 71-843-434 / 98-358-916

Private Medical Clinics "Polyclinics"

La Soukra Clinic - 71-758-888 / 71-758-666
Polyclinic El Amen de La Marsa - 71-749-000
Clinic El Manar - 71-800-211 / 71-783-343
Centre d'Assistance Medicale Urgente, Montfleury - 71-341-807

NABEUL: Clinic Ibn Rochd - 72-286-668
SOUSSE: Clinic des Oliviers - 73-242-711
SFAX: Clinic Annafis - 74-215-000
BIZERTE: Clinic Raouebi - 72-440-200
DJERBA: Clinic Chifa - 75-500-411
GAFSA: Clinic Ennakhil - 76-210-750

Other Medical Resources:
CAMUR: Centre d/Assistane Medicale Urgente et Reanimation
(Poison control), Tunis ) 71-335-500


Common sense and sound personal security practices, including
a keen awareness of surroundings, are the best ways to ensure
an incident-free visit. Treat the cities in Tunis as you
would any major city in the United States. For example,
travelers should be wary of unsolicited offers of assistance
and refuse offers that sound too good to be true. Presenting
a positive, confident attitude is one of the best ways to
avoid crime.


US Embassy Tunis, 1053 Les Berges du Lac, Tunis, Tunisie

If dialing from abroad, country code for Tunisia is 216.

U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisia: 71-107-000

Regional Security Office: 71-107-341 or TunisRSO(at
Consular Section: via Embassy Switchboard: 71-107-000 or
ConsularTunis (at symbol)
Economic and Commercial Officer: via Embassy switchboard:
71-107-000 or TunisCommercial(at symbol)


Tunisia does not currently have an OSAC Country Council but
security questions and requests for more info may be directed
to the Regional Security Office at the contact number and
email listed above or via the following email address:

OSACT(at symbol)

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