Gargash: Emirates flights to Tunisia cease after 'security warning' prompts increased safety measures

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said there was a security warning but declined to comment further

Emirates and Etihad, the UAE's two largest airlines will share intelligence after signing a security pact. Courtesy Emirates
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There is little clarity over when Emirates airline will resume its Dubai-Tunis route.

On Sunday an intelligence warning about a possible terror attack prompted Emirates airline to step up security screening of Tunisian female passengers, this in turn prompted Tunisia to ban Emirates from landing in Tunis.

"There was a security warning," the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash told The National on Monday, after the Dubai carrier announced it would cease operations to Tunisia. Dr Gargash declined to comment further, instead reiterating his previous statement on Twitter.

On Sunday evening he said "security information" had caused delays to the passengers’ flights and that both countries were in contact about the measures.

"We have met with our brothers in Tunisia about security information that has imposed specific and circumstantial measures," he said.

"In the UAE, we are proud of empowering women, we appreciate Tunisian women, and respect them. We should avoid misleading attempts at misinterpretation and misrepresentation," Dr Gargash said.

Emirates said it would stop operating its Dubai-Tunis route following instructions from the North African country.

Two days before, Tunisian government officials said the UAE banned Tunisian women from flying to or transiting through its territory.

The Tunisian transport ministry issued a statement saying Emirates flights would be suspended “until the company finds an appropriate solution to operate its flights that follows international laws and treaties.”

Emirates advised affected passengers to contact their travel agent or booking office for assistance re-booking flights following the ban on December 25.

Meanwhile, Tunisian presidency spokesperson Saeeda Qureshi told Shems FM radio, "The UAE authorities have serious security information about the possibility of terrorist attacks."

The information indicates that with jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq, there is "a possibility of a terrorist attack involving either Tunisian women or women carrying a Tunisian passport," she said, suggesting that they could be using false identities, AFP reported.

Ms Qureshi said US authorities confirmed the legitimacy of the security warning issued to the UAE.

More than 8000 Tunisians are suspected to have fought with ISIL, hundreds of women among them. Tunisians constitute the largest number of foreign fighters in ISIL’s ranks in Syria, Iraq and Libya, according to a report from the Washington Post.

“The measures that the UAE took regarding travel of Tunisian women, are considered part of their sovereignty procedures, and not a sign of a trust crisis between the two countries,” Ms Qureshi said.

Similarly, Dr Ali Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Department of Education and Knowledge in the Government of Abu Dhabi and chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, said the travel ban that was imposed on the Tunisian women “was based on security intelligence warnings, which were lifted afterwards, and this occurs in all countries and it is part of the battle that Tunis is taking against terrorism…” he posted on his Twitter account.

“I hope that the brothers in Tunis would face the truth and realise that radicalism and terrorism are the biggest danger that is facing the stability and security of Tunis, and the battle against terrorism is the battle of us all, and we should unify our fronts to combat it,” he added.