Tunisian Town near ‘Star Wars’ Backdrop Now Features in Battle Against ISIS

Star WarsThe desert and dun-colored cliffs around the town of Tataouine were once the backdrop for the movie “Star Wars,” much of which was filmed in this neglected corner of Tunisia in 1976. This struggling town on the fringes of the Sahara still draws a few fans of the movie but now finds itself part of a real conflict, as a way-station for jihadists crossing the Libyan border 60 miles to the east.

Earlier this month, before the gun attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, three young men were arrested here as they allegedly made plans to cross into Libya to join a terrorist network. A local official told CNN they had since been taken to Tunis for questioning.

Two arms caches have also been found in the region this month, one of which included rocket-propelled grenade launchers and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, thought to have been removed from a Libyan armory in the aftermath of Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster in 2011.

Driving near the border, it’s quickly obvious why the Tunisian government is so anxious about Libya’s implosion and the emergence there of an ISIS affiliate whose tentacles stretch half-way across the country. This open space is vast and sparsely populated. Smugglers’ tracks criss-cross the endless scrub and steep, arid hills that run along the border. Gasoline, drugs and other contraband have long been smuggled across the frontier.

Near the town of Remada, south of Tataouine, a couple of soldiers manned a checkpoint. They wore protective jackets — whether for show or because of the perceived threat from Islamist militants, it’s hard to know. When we arrived, passports were requested and phone calls made. We were escorted into the town and politely but firmly told we could go no further without written authorization. (Read more from “Tunisian Town near ‘Star Wars’ Backdrop Now Features in Battle Against ISIS” HERE)

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