Government troops clashed with jihadists in a town in southwestern Tunisia on Monday, leaving at least 28 terrorists dead according to the country’s armed forces. But there’s been controversy after selfies emerged of soldiers posing with the bodies of terrorists.


One such photo, taken in Ben Guerdane, spread quickly on social media. It shows four soldiers in high spirits posing with the bodies of three dead jihadists. The selfie appears to be authentic: the three bodies in the background can be seen lying in the exact same position in other images taken on the same day. A handful of Internet users claim that the soldiers were edited into the image using photo editing software but there doesn’t appear to be any trace of edits.

 
Contacted by FRANCE 24, the spokesperson for the ministry of defense explained that they were “currently carrying out an investigation. If the selfie turns out to be authentic, it would be completely unacceptable. Especially given that these soldiers have exposed their faces, raising the risk of revenge attacks”.

The badges on their uniforms show that the soldiers aren’t officers. The soldier who appears closest to the camera would seem to be a private, the lowest rank in the military hierarchy. The man standing behind him bears the rank of a sergeant.

FRANCE 24 spoke with Walid Zarouk, a security consultant who works with the police. He asserted that a high-ranking officer in Ben Guerdane had confirmed that the photo was authentic.

“My source in the army told me that these soldiers were told off by their superiors, but not punished. They’re not part of any brigade that specializes in carrying out anti-terrorist operations. Soldiers in those units always wear hoods.

These four soldiers were almost certainly tasked with securing the zone long after the fighting had finished. They’re young inexperienced soldiers who wanted to celebrate the army’s victory over the terrorists, but they messed up big time.”

But it wouldn’t be the only blunder to have surfaced on Monday in Ben Guerdane. This photo, showing a private first class soldier smiling in front of another lifeless body, was also shared online.


There have been mixed reactions to the selfies. Many Tunisians praised the soldiers' bravery and didn't seem disturbed by the selfies. However, other social media users were quick to condemn what they deemed ‘unprofessional’ behavior.


On Wednesday, March 2, when jihadist fighters made their first incursion into the region surrounding Ben Guerdane, security forces were roundly criticized for being seemingly unable to stop crowds of onlookers from straying into the area.

At least eight civilians lost their lives following several days of clashes in Ben Guerdane.