Geopolitics

Tunisia Declares War On Terrorism After Museum Attack

Police at Tunis' Bardo Museum on March 18
Police at Tunis' Bardo Museum on March 18

Tunisia is in a state of shock Thursday after the terror attack on the National Bardo Museum in the capital, which left 19 people dead and 44 wounded, most of them foreign tourists. Wednesday's attack in Tunis was a devastating reminder, both inside and outside the North African country where the Arab Spring started more than four years ago, and had indeed seen democracy beginning to take root.

"I want the Tunisian people to understand that we are in a war against terrorism and that these savage minorities do not frighten us," President Beij Caid Essebsi said Thursday after visiting the wounded in hospital.

"We will fight them without mercy to our last breath," he vowed. "Democracy will win and it will survive."

Front page of Tunisian daily Assabah

In neighboring Algeria, El Watan writes that "the terrorists wanted to make Tunisia pay for its choice of a new society of progress and modernity." The newspaper sees the hand of terrorist organizations like ISIS and Boko Haram behind the killings but insists that Tunisia "unlike Algeria, already has the best weapon to fight against extremism: democracy."

The attack and its target, one of the most visited sites in the country, is threatening not only the recent democratic system but also its tourism-dependent economy, says Tunisian daily Le Temps.

Describing a "cowardly and treacherous" attack that hit "Tunisia's heart," the French-speaking newspaper notes that yesterday's killings are making "an already compromised situation even more complicated."

In Paris-based Libération, Algerian writer Kamel Daoud says that yesterday's "sniper attack" targeted the "true heart of the Arab world" and the "one country that proves that there's life on Allah's planet and that democracy is possible and not incompatible with Arabity."

Academic Larbi Sadiki notes in an opinion column for Al Jazeera that yesterday's events mark a "turning point" for Tunisia and "signaled a tactical shift by jihadists in Tunisia and North Africa in general," moving away from merely attacking state symbols.

With the threatening rise of jihadist groups amid the chaos in neighboring Libya, he highlights the "ease" with which the attack was carried out and says that "Tunisia's security apparatus suffers from incompetence if not out-and-out laxity." "The last thing jihadists want for Tunisia is for democracy to triumph," he concludes.

By targeting the country's top museum, the attack also aimed at a pillar of the Tunisian economy: tourism. The victims included citizens of France, Italy, Colombia, Japan, Poland and Spain.

Spanish daily ABC

In its editorial, Switzerland's Le Temps draws a more optimistic picture. "The terrorists have hit their target as much as they have missed it. Tunisia is staggering but it won't fall," writes Angélique Mounier-Kuhn, praising those who on social networks and in the streets have already raised their voices against extremism.

Drawing published in Algeria's El Watan

Writing in the Tunisian Huffington Post, legal expert Farhat Othman urges the government "not to fall in the terrorists' trap" by refraining to maintain pre-revolution legislation and to strangle freedom. "To oppose terrorism and eradicate it, the authorities need citizens that are dignified because they're free in their lives and their ideas."

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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