TIME Italy

One Migrant’s Harrowing Journey From Senegal to Italy

Giovanni Isolino—AFP/Getty Images Shipwrecked migrants disembark from a rescue vessel as they arrive in the Italian port of Augusta in Sicily on April 16, 2015.

He traveled through the Sahara for more than 12 days before reaching chaotic Libya and the treacherous Mediterranean

Mahmoud’s journey across the Mediterranean to Europe in mid-April was a hellish two-day ordeal. The 28-year-old vomited uncontrollably as the tight-packed boat tossed on the choppy waters, he recalls, while several passengers died of dehydration and were buried at sea. He was weak and shaken by the time the vessel drifted ashore in Italy, and he remains haunted by the experience. “Even now I have a problem in my head,” he told TIME on Monday, recounting a traumatic four-month trip from his home in Senegal into Fortress Europe. “I cannot sleep,” he says, speaking by phone from an immigrant center in Rome, where he is now applying for refugee status. “Many people I met have died trying to cross to Europe.”

With at least 1,000 migrants dead in the Mediterranean this past week — the deadliest week at sea for migrants in memory — E.U. officials are scrambling to devise strategies to halt the armada of smugglers’ boats crossing from North Africa, and to prevent more mass drownings, which are turning the Mediterranean into a mass grave of migrants. Many are fleeing wars or poverty back home, facing severe risks that have spiraled in their deadliness. About 1,500 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean since Jan. 1, compared with 96 in the first four months of last year, according to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.

Shocked at the toll, E.U. leaders are set to discuss a raft of emergency measures in Brussels on Thursday, including deploying more boats to help migrants — something many E.U. countries have been loath to do until now — and streamlining immigration and asylum requests from Africa, where hundreds of thousands of people are leaving for Europe.

But above all, E.U. officials say that for the mass deaths to stop, there is one place where peace is needed, and now: Libya.

With the great majority of boats leaving from Libya’s coast, European officials believe that country’s collapse into chaotic violence has allowed a rapacious mafia of human traffickers to flourish with impunity. E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters Monday that Europe wanted to work with Libyans to form a national unity government, so rival factions could together administer the country and help crack down on traffickers. “We invite all Libyans to have the same sense of urgency,” she said, “not only to save their country but the many human lives that are put at risk on their own territory.”

Judging from Mahmoud’s harrowing description of his journey through Libya, and from interviews with those who remain in Libya, however, stopping the smugglers will be a daunting task.

Despite the deaths on the Mediterranean, Libyan traffickers are still finding thousands of eager customers, mostly African, who are desperate for a way out and willing to pay smugglers a hefty $1,000 each to squeeze on to heavily overloaded boats.

Mahmoud, who requested his last name not be used for fear of complicating his request for asylum in Italy, estimates he paid a steep $2,130 to smugglers throughout the trip.

After leaving Senegal, Mahmoud crossed the blistering Sahara for more than 12 days, traveling through Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, as groups of migrants were passed from one smuggling group to the next, each demanding payment. With little to eat or drink, he recalled, several migrants died in the sand. When they finally staggered into Tripoli, they found a terrifying city racked by gunfire and militia battles. When Mahmoud ventured out to find work in order to pay for his onward journey, he says, police arrested him and jailed him for “one month and four days.”

Libya’s Catholic Bishop, Father Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, told TIME from Tripoli on Monday that he has begun begging Africans who visit his whitewashed Italianate church in the city not to risk death on the unforgiving sea. “I try to discourage them, I try to teach them courage,” he says. But his pleas have fallen on deaf ears. And meanwhile, hundreds more migrants keep arriving in Libya, in search for smugglers to take them to Europe.

By the time the African migrants arrive in Tripoli, they have already paid dearly for leaving home — so dearly, in fact, that stopping short of Europe seems almost unfathomable. Mahmoud never contemplated turning around, a decision that would have required retracing the perilous Sahara route, which he says had “many bandits and robbers.”

Martinelli said many migrants crowded into his church on Sunday, just hours after the news broke that hundreds of migrants appeared to have drowned in the worst single incident in the Mediterranean on record. “The church is full, full, full of Africans,” he said, speaking from Tripoli. “They all want to get to Italy, they all want a possibility to leave.”

Smugglers finally packed Mahmoud and others into a dinghy late one night in early April, but the vessel sprang a leak and the group turned back. Police shot at them as they clambered back ashore, according to his account, killing seven migrants. A few days later, smugglers tried again, packing hundreds into a boat at midnight and sending them across the Mediterranean.

Although his nightmarish journey is now over, Mahmoud says the experience has left him severely affected, and with lasting medical problems. Asked what he tells friends back in Senegal who are considering making the same trek to Europe, he says, “I tell them, ‘Never, never, never go.’”

Read next: More Migrants Saved From Drowning as E.U. Tries to Act

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TIME europe

More Migrants Saved From Drowning as E.U. Tries to Act

A migrant is helped disembark in the Sicilian harbor of Pozzallo, Italy, early, April 20, 2015.
Alessandra Tarantino—AP A migrant is helped disembark in the Sicilian harbor of Pozzallo, Italy, early, April 20, 2015.

After 1,000 migrants died in a week, European officials are slowly taking action

Hundreds of migrants were rescued from two separate boats on the Mediterranean on Monday as European Union officials rushed to find a way to reduce the numbers of migrants crossing the sea and save the ones who make the journey.

According to reports, one boat off the Libyan coast was carrying about 300 people, and another off the Greek island of Rhodes, from which about 80 migrants were rescued from the sea. That came just one day after about 700 migrants trying to get to Europe are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean’s Strait of Sicily near Libya—the single worst loss of life in years of a spiraling migrant crisis. The overloaded fishing boat tilted, and then sank, after hundreds of passengers rushed to one side of the vessel in order to hail a passing Portuguese merchant ship.

With more than 1,000 people drowned in the past week alone—the deadliest week in memory—foreign and interior ministers of the E.U.’s 28 countries met in Luxembourg to thrash out a strategy and to coordinate E.U. efforts. The plan includes increasing funding to the E.U.’s border-patrol program at sea and expanding its brief to rescuing people—something aid organizations have pushed for for months—and trying to push Libyan politicians to form a united government, to resolve the chaos there. “With this latest tragedy, we have no more excuses, the E.U. has no more excuses, the member states have no more excuses,” the E.U.’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters. “We need immediate action from the E.U.”

E.U. officials announced that the continent’s leaders would hold an emergency summit on Thursday.”We have to stem the flow from the Libyan side,” Malta’s Prime Minister George Vella told CNN on Monday. “The numbers are being augmented by those who are making mountains of money from these poor people.” With a similar message, British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking during an election campaign in Cheshire, England, called the scenes of overloaded migrant boats “horrific,” and said, “We should put the blame squarely on the appalling human traffickers.”

Yet the situation is more complex than that. Despite the veneer of unity in Luxembourg among E.U. officials, Europe is sharply divided over whether to mount search-and-rescue efforts in international waters. Several E.U. leaders fear such efforts would encourage thousands more migrants to try make it to Europe—the so-called pull factor—at a time when right-wing political parties have soared in national elections on a message of limited immigration to Europe.

Last November, the E.U. scrapped funding for an Italian maritime rescue program, Mare Nostrum, and replaced it with an E.U. program called Triton, whose $3.1 million monthly budget is one third its predecessor’s budget. Unlike the defunct Mare Nostrum, the E.U. program is focused on border control, and limits its boats to patrolling only to within 30 miles of Europe’s sea borders—leaving tens of thousands of migrants vulnerable to drowning on the high seas or close to the North African coast.

That decision has proved disastrous, according to refugee officials, who say that limiting rescue programs has not deterred migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. “If you accuse Mare Nostrum of being a pull factor, that means you do not want people to come, at any cost, even if you see them sink in the sea,” says Christopher Hein, director of the Italian Council for Refugees, one of the only international aid organizations working with migrants inside Libya. “Nobody would be so cynical to say so openly, but this is the logical consequence of this policy.”

Father Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest from Eritrea, has been been a telephonic lifeline for thousands for migrants for years. From his home in Switzerland, Zerai fielded hundreds of migrants’ distress calls from sea, and would immediately raise the alarm with Italian or Maltese coastguards, who then dispatched rescue teams. As his fame spread among African migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, his number spread too, even written on the walls of migrant detention centers in Libya.

All week, the frantic calls have come from inside rickety boats on the Mediterranean, with voices crying desperate pleas. “Help us! Help us!” they shout, down a crackling telephone line from the middle of the sea, to one of the very few people in Europe whose mobile numbers they have at hand: “I’ve received at least seven or eight distress calls from the sea in the last week,” says Zerai, describing several calls from migrants while crammed into boats. “There are pregnant women giving birth in the boat. People are in really bad condition. They are panicking, especially the women and children,” he says, then sighs, “It is just shocking.”

But he says his rescue efforts have become far more difficult, now that Italy’s rescue program—which had a monthly budget of about $10 million—has been cancelled. “The passengers call and give me all the information, even the condition of the boat, and I give that all to the Italian and Maltese coastguard,” he says. “But now I call the coastguard, and they say they need time to move to international waters,” he says. “That means many, many hours. In that time, people can die.”

TIME europe

Mediterranean Becomes Mass Grave as Europe Struggles With Migrant Crisis

Only 28 passengers are believed to have survived the overnight capsizing

Hundreds of people were likely drowned overnight in the Mediterranean when their boat capsized during a desperate attempt to reach Europe, officials said Sunday, deepening a crisis that has shaken politicians as they struggle to cope with the disaster unfolding off Europe’s southern coastlines.

Officials with the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Sunday they believed only 28 passengers had survived the capsizing in the Strait of Sicily near the coast of Libya. Survivors who finally reached Italy told the agency their boat tilted, and then sank, after hundreds of passengers rushed to one side to hail a Portuguese merchant ship, which was said to be coming to rescue them and bring them ashore to a European port.

One survivor, a man from Bangladesh, told authorities the boat had a total of 950 people aboard, the Associated Press reports. He also said some 300 people had been locked in the hold by smugglers. The official death toll on Sunday evening was 24, with 28 rescued.

As the scale of the tragedy became clear, French President François Hollande called on E.U. leaders to act to stop the spiraling death toll in the Mediterranean, where by some estimates about 1,500 migrants have drowned this year — most of them in the past week. E.U. officials scrambled to respond to what Hollande called “the worst catastrophe in recent years,” saying that they would call an emergency meeting this week. Speaking on Canal+ Television, Hollande said Europe needed “more boats, more overflights and a much more intense battle against people trafficking.”

But for many, such action will come too late.

This weekend’s huge loss of life is just the latest incident that has now made the Mediterranean the world’s most lethal sea crossing, and by a wide margin, as UNHCR estimates that about 3,419 people drowned last year while trying to make it to Europe. With warmer weather, E.U. officials expect thousands more will try their luck against death-defying odds, cramming into overloaded vessels along the North African coast, especially in Libya, where a network of traffickers have plied their cross-Mediterranean trade for many years.

For the E.U., the migrant crisis is emerging as both a failure of policy, and of the continent’s stated humanitarian values, on which Europe’s leaders have long prided themselves. Those values are now colliding headlong with the upheaval in the Middle East and parts of Africa, which has driven millions to flee. For E.U. leaders, the risk is that helping thousands of boat people could well be seen as welcoming more immigrants to Europe, a highly contentious issue when right-wing parties have campaigned successfully on border restrictions.

Italy has been overwhelmingly hard-hit, since its coast is the closest European landing point from Libya. About 10,000 migrants have landed on Italian land in the past week, and about 200,000 of them arrived last year. Exasperated by the lack of help from his E.U. colleagues, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said last week that “90% of the cost of the patrol and sea-rescue operations are falling on our shoulders, and we have not had an adequate response from the E.U.”

Indeed, the 28 E.U. countries have failed to agree on a coordinated strategy to stop vessels at sea or have simply devoted so few funds, that whatever strategy they have designed seems doomed to fail. Last year, the E.U.-run Triton search-and-rescue program on the Mediterranean replaced Mare Nostrum, an Italian-led program that had three times as much funding at about €9 million ($9.7 million) a month, compared with Triton’s €3 million ($3.2 million) a month. Under Triton, E.U. patrol boats operate only within 50 km (30 miles) off Italy’s coast — leaving thousands of migrants vulnerable to drowning on the high seas, or closer to North Africa’s coast.

Now with summer approaching, E.U. leaders are arguing over how to share the burden, with the political impasse continuing even as the humanitarian cost mounts. The E.U.’s new commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, says new policies will be up for discussion sometime in May — well into the trafficking season.

Pope Francis appealed this weekend for E.U. leaders and others to do more, just a day after saying the disaster “demands much greater involvement.” On Sunday, he told thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly Angelus address that the migrants at sea “are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war.” He added: “They were looking for a better life.”

This past week has been among the worst in recent memory for fleeing migrants and has highlighted how the fate of people on the rickety boats have become embroiled in conflicts raging elsewhere. On Wednesday, a group of Nigerians trying to cross to Europe allegedly threw about 12 Christian passengers overboard after they refused to pray to Allah for help when their fishing boat sprang a leak; the migrants who the passengers said had been responsible were arrested after the group arrived in Italy.

As Italian rescue teams scoured the water for corpses, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said, shocked, “How can it be that we daily are witnessing a tragedy?”


In the Heart Of the Mountain

Matthieu Gafsou for TIME At 57 km, the Gotthard Base Tunnel will be the longest rail tunnel in the world once it opens for use in mid-2016.

A record-breaking train tunnel could provide a badly needed shortcut through the Swiss Alps

The sky is still black over the Swiss Alps as we climb aboard a train one morning in late March and head inside the mountains. In an instant, the sharp alpine air thickens to a torpid heat reaching nearly 40°C. The temperature rise is a function of geology, not meteorology­—we are deep inside solid rock, in the 57-km-long Gotthard Base Tunnel. More than 1,800 m of mountain is piled above our heads. “This is extremely high-­pressure rock and the water pressure is also very high,” says Renzo Simoni, a Swiss civil engineer and CEO of AlpTransit Gotthard AG, the company that is overseeing one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects, as he guides us along a dark tunnel track. “Working in these conditions is very, very hard.”

Indeed—building the Gotthard Base Tunnel has taken decades of backbreaking toil by more than 2,600 people, at a cost of more than $10 billion. But after 23 years of work, the result is spectacular. When it finally opens in June next year, the tunnel­ will be the longest in the world, longer than the Seikan Tunnel in northern Japan and the Channel Tunnel connecting England and France.

But it’s not just length that sets Gotthard apart. Unlike those two, which partly travel under water, the Swiss tunnel required drilling through exceedingly hard granite and quartz, under the Gotthard massif in the Alps. Thanks to the 800-m-deep shafts needed to pump in air and drop millions of tons of cement for the tunnel walls and floors, the Gotthard Base Tunnel will not only be the world’s longest but will also have what Simoni believes is the world’s most powerful ventilation system. In order to bore a total of 152 km of tunnels, shafts and passages (there are twin, parallel rail tunnels, one for each direction), the workers cut through 13 million cu m of rock, the volume of nearly nine Empire State Buildings.

An Engineering Dream

All this would have been essentially impossible until the recent development of high-precision boring machines capable of digging a tunnel this long. With shafts nearly a kilometer long, engineers needed satellites to map out the entire route; an error of even a few millimeters would mean redoing entire parts of the tunnel. For environmental reasons, the concrete for the tunnel walls came from the rock the workers excavated, rather than from riverbeds, as is often the case with tunnel building. That meant developing entirely new plastic compounds to seal the walls against possible leaks. “This is completely different,” Simoni said. “This had never been done before.”

But while the technology to build an epic Alps tunnel is new, the dream isn’t. In 1947 the Swiss engineer Carl Eduard Gruner fancifully suggested tunneling through the Alps between the northern city of Basel to Chiasso on Switzerland’s southern border with Italy—a distance of some 285 km—because the cars snaking bumper to bumper over the twisting mountain passes were threatening to turn the bucolic slopes into an endless traffic jam.

Nearly seven decades after Gruner first floated his idea, the traffic in the Swiss Alps is as much a problem as ever. The original Gotthard rail tunnel, about an hour’s drive south of Zurich, is still used, but it was built in the horse-and-buggy era in 1882, is only 15 km long and is too steep and twisting for long modern freight trains to use.

As the container ships that carry international cargo have grown bigger, the container-truck traffic that bears that freight from port to final destination has become heavier. About 1.2 million container trucks barrel through the Swiss Alps every year, leaving politicians and regular citizens wondering whether clouds of diesel fumes might one day choke their country’s iconic landscape. “The Alps are extremely important to the image of Switzerland,” says Manuel Herr­mann, head of transport policy at Alpine Initiatives, an organization set up in 1989 to push the government to restrict truck traffic across the mountains. Herrmann claims the air pollution and noise in the Swiss Alps’ five valleys is now comparable to cities like Paris. That’s more than an environmental danger—it’s a cultural threat to a country whose traditions are rooted in the ideal of clean mountain living. The tunnel opening in Erstfeld is close to the mountain village where William Tell shot an apple off his son’s head with a crossbow, or so the famous legend goes. “You think of Switzerland, you think of the mountains,” says Herrmann.

Modern freight trains need flat tracks, which meant tunneling through deep rock at the heart of the mountains in order to avoid the craggy alpine peaks and crevices. So the Gotthard Base Tunnel sits about 600 m below its 19th century predecessor, with just a slight incline. That will allow freight trains to speed along the tracks at 160 km/h, carrying double the load of the freight trains that now use the old tunnel. For every three freight trains, a passenger train will zip through the tunnel at speeds up to 250 km/h.

Little has been left to chance in the design. Giant doors painted bright yellow seal off emergency tunnels into which trains can move along side tracks in the event of engine problems. The morning we went into the tunnel, a few dozen workers crouched on the tracks, checking bolts and wiring electrical connections, finishing some of the last preparations for six months of test runs beginning in October, before its official opening, planned for June 5 next year.

From the start, the sheer technical dangers of the project weighed on engineers. “The nightmare scenario during excavation was a rockfall or water coming in,” says AlpTransit Gotthard CEO Simoni. (Eight construction workers died over two decades, but from being hit by trains or from falling, rather than accidents specifically relating to the building of the tunnel.) Simoni says one complication engineers faced in constructing the new tunnel was the composition of the Gotthard rock itself, which has a tendency to “squeeze together, as if it’s trying to fill empty spaces.” So the builders installed a series of steel arches to keep the tunnel walls stable. To stop water from seeping in—one of the biggest dangers in the construction of any tunnel—engineers developed custom sealing foils, which sit between two concrete linings, with the outer walls up to 80 cm thick in parts.

More Tunnels, More Traffic

Yet while no one would dispute that the Gotthard Base Tunnel is an engineering marvel, one question remains: Will it actually fulfill the reason for its construction and reduce the huge numbers of trucks crossing the Swiss Alps?

After more than 20 years and $10 billion, the answer is still unclear. One glance at the map of Europe shows the reason why. With just 8 million people, tiny Switzerland is wedged between three industrial giants: Italy to the south, France to the west and Germany to the north. Europe’s major ports of Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp, where millions of container ships off-load Asian and U.S. imports and ship out E.U. exports every year, sit at one end of the continent’s North-South axis, with Switzerland at the heart of this economic circulatory system.

Even though the Gotthard tunnel is all but completed, Switzerland—which is not a member of the E.U.—believes that Europe will need a bigger network of freight rails if the traffic jams in the Alps are to be cleared. But that’s a tough sell for a continent digging out from an economic crisis. It’s even possible that the new tunnel network will increase the number of trucks by expanding the regional freight market, while leaving other countries without high-capacity freight rails, according to a 2013 independent study commissioned by the Federal Office of Transport in Bern.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s often true—new roads and rails can end up inducing additional traffic, not relieving it. Alpine Initiatives, the organization that works to reduce truck traffic, believes that Europe instead needs to ration the right to cross the mountain, through what it terms the Alpine Crossing Exchange. Trucking companies would buy and sell a limited number of rights to ship their goods across the mountains. “Trucks are driving through all of Europe,” says Herrmann. “You cannot just build tunnels and expect miracles to happen and road traffic to go away.” The tunnel’s contractor AlpTransit disagrees, hailing Gotthard as a major convenience for both goods and people that will shorten journey times and allow more goods to be shipped while consuming less energy—all key factors in a country that prides itself on clockwork efficiency.

When we emerge from the Gotthard tunnel later that March morning, the sun is high in the sky, glistening off the huge snow-capped peaks, while sheep graze lazily on emerald green farmland along the side of the road. At a rest stop across the freeway, truck drivers pausing for coffee park their vehicles, which show license plates from Lithuania, Serbia, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere. None of them seem aware that they are a short walk from the world’s longest rail tunnel, nor that it is aimed at stopping them from driving their trucks through this storybook landscape. It could be years before that happens, if it ever does. Whatever its ultimate impact, however, the Gotthard Base Tunnel will stand as a monument to Swiss precision and perfectionism­—on a mountainous scale.

TIME Aviation

German Pilots Cast Doubt on Blaming of Co-Pilot for Crash

German pilots reacted with anger and confusion on Thursday after French and German statements said the co-pilot on the Germanwings crash earlier this week deliberately slammed the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. Stunned at the revelations, some pilots believe that the authorities are eager to find a culprit to blame, before the relevant facts are known. “It is a very, very incomplete picture,” says James Phillips, international affairs director of the German Pilots Association, speaking on the phone to TIME late Thursday. He said his own reaction was “angry.” “I have the feeling that there was a search for a quick answer, rather than a good answer,” he said.

In a chilling press briefing on Thursday, the Marseille public prosecutor Brice Robin charged with investigating Tuesday’s crash told reporters that the plane’s 28-year-old co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, deliberately flew the plane into a mountain while he was alone in the cockpit. His far more seasoned captain, Patrick Sonderheimer, had apparently left for a toilet break, and when Sonderheimer knocked on the cockpit door to come back in, Lubitz refused to open the door. Instead, he took the Airbus A320 plane steadily downwards at 3,000 feet per minute, until it slammed into the Alpine ravine, pulverizing the aircraft and killing 144 passengers and six crew members. Robin said Lubitz had “a willingness to destroy the aircraft.” Shortly after, Lufthansa CEO Carten Spohr and the German Transportation Minister each told reporters that they had concluded, based on Robin’s account, that Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane.

Phillips, who spoke to several members of the pilots’ association immediately after Robin’s press briefing, said they were “very, very confused,” and that the Marseille prosecutor, who is charged with investigating the crash, “raised more questions than he had answered.”

Chief among those questions is why the captain, who spent several minutes banging frantically on the cockpit door, did not use an emergency code, designed to override the system those inside the cockpit use to let someone in. “We all agree that the captain left the cockpit,” says Phillips. “But we have an emergency access code to get into the cockpit. That was not mentioned,” he said. Other pilots believe that the person within the cockpit can override any attempt to gain entry from outside.

Airbus has a YouTube video to instruct A320 crew members about what to do if one of them is trying to get inside the cockpit, but those inside do not open. According to the video, the crew would tap an emergency code on the keypad outside the cockpit door, setting off a 30-second alarm inside the cockpit, until the door opens for just five seconds, allowing the person to enter.

Robin said he was sure Lubitz was conscious, since the audio on the cockpit voice recorder has him breathing normally throughout the 10-minute descent into the mountains, until the moment of impact. But pilots are not convinced that the breathing sounds meant he was able to open the door to Sonderheimer. “Was he conscious? Could he open the door?” Phillips asked. “The prosecutor did not provide answers to that.”

With attention now focused on Lubitz’s mental state, Germanwings crew members who flew with the rookie pilot just days before Tuesday’s crash say he seemed totally normal. “We’ve spoken to crew that flew with him a few days before, and say he was relaxed and very normal,” Phillips says. “He was not acting in any way strange. He was friendly and outgoing, and there was never any sign that anyone should be concerned about.”

The International Federal of Airline Pilots Associations, or IFALPA, condemned the leaks of the cockpit voice recorder or CVR on Thurdsay, saying that it violated long-established practices after plane crashes, where details are kept confidential until the investigation is complete. “Leaks of this nature greatly harm flight safety since they invite ill-informed speculation from the media and general public and discourage cooperation with investigators in future accidents,” said a statement from the Montreal-based organization. “The sole purpose of a CVR is to aid investigators… not to apportion blame.”

Read next: Germanwings Plane Crash: We Could Be Doing Much More To Prevent Pilot Suicide

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TIME Aviation

Mystery of Germanwings Plane Crash Deepens as Focus on Co-Pilot Intensifies

"What I can say is that he voluntarily allowed the plane to descend, to lose altitude"

Correction appended, March 26, 2015

The motives of the young co-pilot who officials believe slammed the Germanwings plane into a French mountainside on Tuesday remain a mystery more than two days later.

German authorities searched the Dusseldorf home of Andreas Lubitz on Thursday, looking for clues as to why he might have piloted the aircraft into French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. Five investigators went “through the apartment, looking for clues as to what the co-pilot’s motivation might have been,” the city’s police spokesman Markuz Diesczery said in televised comments, “if he did indeed bring the plane down.” Authorities were also seen removing bags from a residence believed to belong to his parents in Montabaur.

Earlier in the day, the French prosecutor investigating the deadly crash stunned relatives, officials and much of Europe, by telling reporters in an extraordinarily candid and chilling briefing that Lubitz apparently locked the seasoned captain out of the cockpit and “had a willingness to destroy the aircraft.”

“It was a voluntary action of the co-pilot,” Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor, said. “It is intentional, so we are going to have to change the nature of the investigation.”

The revelation transformed in an instant what most people thought was a tragic accident, into a criminal case of huge proportions. The focus is now on the young pilot with 18 months’ experience, who, according to the prosecutor, manipulated the controls to take the plane into its descent for about 10 minutes, until it smashed into the mountainside at 500 miles per hour.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that the revelations added a “new, simply incomprehensible dimension” to Tuesday’s fatal crash.

The mystery is why Lubitz, 28, from Montabaur, Germany, took himself, five colleagues and 144 passengers to a catastrophic death. He did all that without saying a single word, while the captain banged frantically on the cockpit door, attempting to get in as the aircraft plummeted downwards, the prosecutor said. He displayed no doubt that it was intentional. “I’m not using the word suicide because I do not know,” Robin said. “What I can say is that he voluntarily allowed the plane to descend, to lose altitude.”

The horrifying last minutes of the flight were captured on the cockpit voice recorder which rescue workers found amid the wreckage within hours of the crash on Tuesday. Detailing what the audio recording showed, Robin said the captain, Patrick Sonderheimer from Düsseldorf, is heard starting to prepare the details for the eventual landing at that German city, to which it was flying from Barcelona.

Robin said the recording showed about 20 minutes of “cordial” and “normal” banter between Sonderheimer and Lubitz. Sonderheimer then asked Lubitz to take over, and Lubitz gave a “laconic” one-word reply, Robin said. Sonderheimer left the cockpit, most likely to go to the toilet, then returned a few minutes later and asked Lubitz to open the door, after punching in the cockpit door code on the digital keypad outside. There was no answer, and with the door locked from the inside, the captain could not gain access.

With the captain desperately banging on the door, Lubitz remained completely silent, as the plane steadily descended at about 3,000 ft. per minute in a drastic diversion from the flight path, whose coordinates were set in the computer. “He was breathing normally,” Robin said. “It was not the breathing of someone suffering from any kind of illness.” Instead, “There was no word, no word, no word for the last 10 minutes. He voluntarily refused to open the door and turned the button to get down the plane.”

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said the airline had concluded that the plane was deliberately crashed. “We’re in a state of shock,” he told reporters. “We are horrified. This is the worst possible nightmare than anyone can have in this company.” Lubitz had passed medical tests “with flying colors. There had never been any doubt that he was fit,” he said. “We simply cannot understand this.”

Before meeting the press, Robin spoke to the stunned relatives of the victims, scores of whom have traveled to the French Alps near the crash site. And he also revealed his theory to the families of Lubitz and Sonderheimer, who have also gathered near the crash site, but who are being kept separate from the other relatives, according to Robin.

Lubitz joined Germanwings in September 2013, after graduating from Lufthansa’s in-house training program. Germanwings is Lufthansa’s low-cost subsidiary, headquartered in Cologne. Little else was known about him on Thursday. One Twitter photo shows Lubitz, a slender young man with dark hair and a sparse moustache, sitting on a wall next to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

As the shock set in, one consolation for relatives seemed to be that the victims seemed unaware until the final impact that they were about to die. “The victims only realized at the very last minute what was happening,” Robin said. “You only hear screams right at the moment before the impact.” He said he believed “death was instantaneous. Slamming into the mountain at that speed, the plane was pulverized.”

Investigators will likely begin questioning how pilots are recruited, trained and monitored once on staff, including whether they focus too heavily on technical knowledge rather than psychological factors, especially since much of piloted is now automated. “There is no inquiry about your personal lives, religious views,” a former Air France pilot Jean Serrat told the French network BFM on Thursday, talking about pilot training. “It is all about technical capabilities and medical things.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described Andreas Lubitz’s flight history.

TIME Aviation

Why the Black Box Recordings Deepen Germanwings Crash Mystery

Reports suggest that one of the pilots tried to break back into the cabin minutes before the plane crashed

BREAKING NEWS: Prosecutor Says Germanwings Co-Pilot Purposely Crashed Plane

Voice recordings retrieved from the wreckage of the Germanwings plane that crashed on Tuesday suggest that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit and then tried to break down the door to gain entry minutes before it hit Alpine slopes in southern France.

Agence France Presse and the New York Times quote an unnamed investigator who describes the sounds heard from the plane cockpit. The official describes hearing a chair being pushed back and the door opening and closing. Then knocking is heard.

The investigator told the New York Times: “The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer. And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

Germanwings said in a statement that at the moment, “we do not have information from competent authorities to confirm this story. We are doing everything to get the most information possible and we are not engaging in speculation.”

After the attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, airlines, cockpit doors were strengthened and altered so they could only be opened from the inside.

The focus of the investigation will include the character and health of the pilots. Aviation experts told AFP: “If the pilots did not stop the airplane from flying into the mountains, it is because they were unconscious or dead, or they had decided to die, or they were forced to die.”

With Europe in shock at the crash, the leaders of the countries most affected, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy landed by helicopter in the tiny village of Seyne-Les-Alpes on Wednesday, the base for rescue teams scouring the Alpine slopes. Hollande later told reporters that there had been “not the slightest possibility of saving anyone, because there were no survivors.” After flying over the area, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was “a picture of horror.”

Rescue teams face daunting logistical tasks working on steep mountain slopes, far from the narrow twisting roads that wind through the Alps. Many have been dropped from helicopters and then roped together for safety as they pick their way through debris to collect body parts of the victims.

Germanwings flight 9525, which crashed midway from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, had six crew and 144 passengers from about 15 different countries, mostly from Germany and Spain. Among the dead were 16 teenagers from a small German town called Haltern, who were flying home from a week’s school exchange program in Barcelona. One of their teachers had just got married. Also aboard were two Americans, and three generations of one Spanish family. “We are in a state of shock and grief and mourning,” Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann told reporters, adding that some crew members were too distraught to work.

Then there is the job of identifying the bodies. Police told Hollande, Merkel and Rajoy that they were designing a system to transport the remains off the mountain for DNA identification, probably in Marseille.

The voice recordings may have added important clues to what happened to the plane, an Airbus A320, one of the European manufacturer’s best-selling models. It was in seemingly good condition — Germanwings said it was inspected the day before the crash. It lost control at cruising altitude of about 36,000 feet, rather than on takeoff or landing, as is the case in many plane crashes and the pilots did not send out a distress call before the plane slammed into the mountain. Complicating the investigation, the plane obliterated on impact. “When we go to a crash site we expect to find part of the fuselage, but here we see nothing at all,” Xavier Roy, the pilot coordinating air operations, told Reuters.

Rescue teams found the cockpit voice recorder, one of the two so-called black boxes, on Tuesday, badly dented and twisted in the impact. Jouty, the air-safety director, told reporters that there were human voices on the recording, yet they did yet not know whose they were.

The recording helps explain what happened between 10.30 a.m. and 10.32 a.m. That is when the two pilots lost radio contact with control towers in southern France. A local traffic controller sent a “loss of radio contact” distress signal at 10:47 a.m., saying the pilots had not answered several calls, Le Monde reported on Wednesday. A few minutes after that, the plane crashed.

In understanding what happened, officials will try interpret even the silences on the voice recorder — perhaps clues about whether the pilots were somehow incapacitated, or whether the engines were running normally. “Even if there is no conversation in the last half hour, we can then work on the sounds inside the cockpit,” French Transportation Minister Alain Vidalies told Europe1 radio on Wednesday.

With France still deeply on edge after a spate of terror attacks in Paris in January killed 17 people, French officials tried to assure people that terrorism seemed a highly unlikely cause for Tuesday’s crash, in part because the plane did not explode in the air. Still, the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the RTL network, “all hypotheses must be considered, as long as the investigation has not yielded any results.”

Read next: Germanwings Flights Disrupted as Some Crew Refuse to Fly After Crash

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TIME Tunisia

Deadly Museum Attack Highlights Tunisia’s Internal Struggles

Focus shifts to the challenges of building up security against regional threats while also forging a new democracy.

The two men who strolled into the National Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18 looked leisurely and relaxed. Other than the Kalashnikov rifles in their hands, there was no sense that a massacre was about to unfold. Instead, the museum’s security camera footage, posted on the Tunisian Interior Ministry’s Facebook page late Saturday, shows Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui walking through the deserted lobby for several seconds, barely glancing around on their way to the room where dozens of tourists had come to see ancient mosaics and artifacts. When the two run into a third man coming down the stairs, their brief encounter is cordial.

So where were the security guards charged with protecting one of North Africa’s most prestigious museums and Tunisia’s parliament, which sits on the same compound? Nowhere in sight, a top Tunisian politician said this weekend, in a series of admissions from officials that major security flaws led to last Wednesday’s bloodshed. Twenty tourists from Japan, Italy, Colombia, Spain, France, Australia, Poland and Britain were killed, and about 50 others wounded. Abdelfattah Mourou, deputy speaker of Tunisia’s parliament, told AFP that of the four policemen posted outside the museum and parliament—highly strategic buildings—two of them were off drinking coffee nearby, a third was eating a midday snack “and the fourth had not turned up,” Mourou said. “It is a big failure.”

That is an understatement.

As Tunisia reels from the attack, for which the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility, officials face tough questions from Western governments and Tunisians themselves about how gunmen met no resistance, despite the fact that officials have warned for months that hundreds of jihadists were plotting violent attacks aimed at undoing their new democracy. The two men died in a blaze of gunfire when security forces stormed the museum about three hours after the attack began.

President Beji Caid Essebsi said on Sunday that a third suspected attacker was still on the loose, though he did not provide any details. Security forces said they had arrested 20 jihadists, with 10 of them directly connected to the museum attack. But the President said one key figure in the attack is still missing. “There were for certain three terrorists,” Essebsi told the French network iTele in a televised interview. “There is one on the run. He will not get far.”

Accounting for how security failed so drastically is crucial for Tunisia, whose 11 million people depend heavily on Western tourists. The country’s tourism industry accounted for 7% of its GDP before the Arab Spring and still provides tens of thousands of jobs for young Tunisians, including one of the now-dead gunmen, Laabidi.

In their rush to reassure foreigners that the country is safe, officials say they have been struggling to build an effective security apparatus, while at the same time forging a new democracy; the 2011 revolution drove out Tunisia’s longtime authoritarian leader, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

Yet there is another crucial factor: political will. Essebsi said Saturday that Islamist politicians who ran Tunisia’s government until January were wary of cracking down on suspected jihadists; the major Islamic party, Ennahda, was banned under Ben Ali’s reign, then took power after the revolution but lost their majority last October. “There has been much too much leniency these past few years, especially by the Islamist government while it was in power,” Essebsi told Paris Match.

Looking back, there appears to be some truth in that statement.

In September 2012, just after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, for example, hundreds of hardliners stormed the American embassy in Tunis and hoisted the flag associated with al-Qaeda, without intervention from security forces. The mob was finally beaten back when then-President Moncef Marzouki—a secular liberal at odds politically with the Islamic party—deployed the presidential guards after receiving a frantic call from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to Marzouki’s account to TIME in a palace interview a few days later. When TIME asked Ennahda head Rachid Ghannouchi, whose party was in power, why his government didn’t crack down on Salafists, he said, “We don’t judge people based on what ideology they follow, but on their actions.”

Eighteen months on, those actions have now shaken Tunisia, and the task of stopping jihadist threats seems more difficult than it was back in 2012. Of the more than 3,000 Tunisians estimated to have fought with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, officials say about 500 are back home. But there is no need for jihadists to travel far to train for battle. Tunisia is wedged between Algeria, where al-Qaeda has long been active, and Libya, where ISIS has seized on the absence of any functional central government to launch attacks. Tunisian officials have described the gunmen as Salafists, and said they received weapons training last December in Libya, along with other Tunisians.

In an email to TIME on Sunday, Ghannouchi, whose Ennahda party has about 27% of seats in parliament, deplored last Wednesday’s attack, saying the country needs a major counter-terrorism strategy on all levels. “Terrorism must be a national cause above political differences,” he wrote. “The performance of the security and military forces has been improving and achieving greater proficiency and effectiveness, however, the attack clearly shows that there are shortcomings.”

Indeed, security forces have been battling jihadists for months, with about 23 killed last year in skirmishes in the remote mountains near the Algerian border. Struggling to cope, the government announced a new counter-terrorism force last December. Just two weeks ago, Algeria sent air-to-ground missiles to Tunisia, for the purpose at bombing terrorist bases in the remote mountains of the country, according to an Algerian security official—a sign, perhaps, that Tunisia was weighing much tougher action against jihadists.

Essebsi admitted to Paris Match that “among the unemployed and often desperate youth, the jihad has had some appeal.” Similarly, Ghannouchi said in his email to TIME that Tunisia needed to “provide hope for young people in finding jobs and creating a better future for them.”

Yet that might not have stopped Laabidi and Khachnaoui from massacring tourists at the museum. Laabidi’s family said he was a middle-class urbanite who had studied French, had a stable job and showed no outward sign of radicalism. “My brother was a bon vivant,” Laabidi’s older brother told AFP, stunned at the man’s bloody death. He “enjoyed a drink with mates and would joke around with everyone. He had no complex whatsoever.”

TIME Tunisia

Tunisia Reels From a Terror Attack Possibly Linked to ISIS

ISIS claims responsibility for a terror attack in Tunis that killed over 20 people

With Tunisians reeling from the terror attack that killed 18 foreign tourists on Wednesday in the heart of their capital, the government scrambled to try avert any further attacks, while accounting for how gunmen were able to mount the deadliest operation in decades, in broad daylight and with seemingly little difficulty.

Late Wednesday, security forces arrested nine people, five of whom were believed to be directly connected to the attack on the National Bardo Museum, according to Tunisia’s presidential office, which said the suspects were part of a terror “cell.” In the worst attack on foreigners in 13 years—and with the highest death toll perhaps ever—two gunmen cornered the tourists in the museum parking lot early Wednesday afternoon, massacring several of them, before holding several others under siege inside. Security forces stormed the building about four hours later, killing the attackers and freeing the hostages. Among those killed were tourists from Spain, Italy, Poland and Germany, most of whom were passengers on a Mediterranean cruise-liner that had stopped for a day of sight seeing in Tunis.

As the shock sank in on Wednesday night, 88-year-old Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who took office only in January after the country’s first presidential elections, vowed an all-out fight against jihadists. Tunisia, he said in a televised address, was “in a war with terror, and these savage minority groups will not frighten us. The fight against them will continue until they are exterminated.” Parliament on Thursday pledged more funds to beef up security and intelligence.

Yet despite the aggressive talk, Tunisians wondered whether their country’s security has been too lax, and how the growing threats within this small country of 11 million people had gone unnoticed. On Thursday, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid admitted that one of the two gunman had been under surveillance, although it appeared that Tunisia’s security forces did not have information linking him to a specific militant organization. “He was known to the security services, he was flagged and monitored,” said Essid, speaking to the French network RTL. “We are in the process of further investigation. We cannot say which organization they belong to.”

Despite that, early suspicions of who was behind Wednesday’s attack point to the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS). Tunisian analysts speculated on Wednesday that the attack on the museum might have been timed in retaliation for the death earlier this week of Ahmed al-Rouissi, one of Tunisia’s most wanted militants, who was killed fighting with ISIS in the Libyan city of Sirt.

On Thursday, the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist organizations, provided an English translation of an ISIS audio statement to the New York Times, in which the organization claimed responsibility for the tourist massacre, and warned of more violence to come. “We tell the apostates who sit on the chest of Muslim Tunisia: Wait for the glad tidings of what will harm you, impure ones, for what you have seen today is the first drop of the rain, God willing,” the paper quoted the statement saying. “You will not enjoy security, nor be pleased with peace, while the Islamic State has men like these.”

There might also have been a warning shortly before the attack. A few hours before the gunmen opened fire at the museum, an ISIS supporter tweeted, “Coming good news to Tunisia’s Muslims,” according to Britain’s Daily Mail. The tweeter, whose handle is @riff0BA, promised “a shock to the disbelievers and the hypocrites, especially those who claim to be cultured.'” According to the Associated Press, two of the gunman involved in the attack left Tunisia in December and received weapons training in Libya.

When gunfire exploded on Wednesday afternoon, residents in Tunis could scarcely believe that their breezy seaside city was under a terrorist attack. Sayida Ounissi, 28, a member of parliament for the Islamist political party Ennahda, told TIME on Thursday that many of her colleagues in parliament at first brushed off the security alert, not believing that they might be in danger; the lawmakers were in session, discussing new anti-terrorism measures, when the gunmen attacked the nearby National Bardo Museum. “Despite all of the threats and assassinations, most of us living in the city think of terrorism as something happening outside, in Iraq and Libya,” Ounissi said, by phone from Tunis. “I was one of the rare people who took the alert seriously.” She quickly began to leave the parliament, followed by her colleagues.

That illusion of safety has been severely shaken. Indeed, Tunisian analysts believe that jihadist organizations see the country and its democratically elected government as a particularly juicy target. That is because Tunisia’s 2011 Jasmine Revolution sparked a wave of uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, emerging as the sole democracy from the Arab Spring.

Wedged between Algeria, where al-Qaeda affiliates are active, and unstable Libya, where ISIS is waging increasing attacks, tiny Tunisia seems highly vulnerable. Tunisian officials estimate that more than 3,000 citizens have fought with jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria over the past four years—making it one of the biggest sources of foreign fighters in the world. About 500 of them have since returned. Battle-trained, some could be planning to wage attacks at home. “We know very well that the Tunisia model is not to everyone’s satisfaction,” says Ounissi. “You have a Muslim democracy in a region with extremist organizations, who do not want freedom and democracy.”

Still, Wednesday’s attacks appeared to have inspired intense determination among Tunisians to protect their democratic revolution. After dark on Wednesday thousands of people poured into Tunis’s main boulevard, Avenue Habib Bouguiba, signing the national anthem and holding handwritten signs proclaiming that terrorism would not prevail. Others gathered in a candlelight vigil outside the Bardo Museum, shaken by the gruesome bloodshed on the city’s streets. “You can see the sense of shock on everyone’s faces,” says Jerry Sorkin, an American tour operator who has lived in Tunis for many years, and runs a cultural-tour company called TunisUSA. “People are not going to tolerate the violence,” he says, speaking by phone from the capital on Thursday. “They have gone so far in forming a democracy.”

Nonetheless, Wednesday’s attacks are likely to have a drastic effect on Tunisia, especially on the vital tourist industry, which has suffered since the Arab Spring. The travel industry makes up about seven percent of the country’s economy, and employs nearly 500,000 people. A two-hour flight from Paris, Tunisia’s sun-baked coastline drew millions of tourists before the revolution. Tunisia was hoping that this year’s summer would mark an upturn in tourists, many of whom have stayed away since 2011. But Sorkin says he had received several calls and emails since Wednesday from nervous clients who have booked tours to Tunisia. ” All we can tell them is, we really think this is an isolated situation,” he says.

Tunisians are hoping that is the case. On Thursday, Tunisia’s former Minister of Information Oussama Romdani, who served under Ben Ali, sent TIME an email titled simply, “how to help after the attack.” Inside was a photograph of a sunny Mediterranean beach, with the words: “Keep calm and visit Tunisia.”

TIME Tunisia

Tunisia Bloodshed Threatens to Undo Nation’s Progress

Attack that killed at least 20 foreigners could throw the nascent democracy into turmoil

In the worst attack on foreigners since the Arab revolutions erupted four years ago, more than 20 people were killed in Tunisia on Wednesday along with two of the country’s citizens, when gunmen stormed the country’s most important museum.

The attack, for which no group has yet taken responsibility, raises the prospect that the terrorist attacks that have become increasingly common elsewhere in the region could destabilize the sole democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring.

Early Wednesday afternoon, two gunmen armed with automatic weapons attacked the Bardo Museum in the capital, Tunis, and opened fire on tourists, before taking numerous foreigners hostage inside the museum. Some three hours later, police stormed the museum, killing the gunmen and freeing the hostages.

Tunisian officials said those killed were Polish, German, Spanish and Italian. Local television aired footage taken inside the museum, showing a group of tourists, seemingly under siege, sitting on the floor of an exhibition room below ancient mosaics. The building sits close to the country’s parliament, and early reports suggested the gunmen may also have attempted to enter that building.

Prime Minister Habib Essid — who took office only in January — went on television after security forces killed the gunmen. Grim-faced and clearly shaken, he told Tunisians that they needed to help face down militant groups. “The citizens, the army, are all responsible,” he said. “All of us must support the security forces to fight against this scourge.”

To some Tunisians, the attack in the tiny North African country seemed all too predictable. Although Tunisia is one of the few countries wracked by the Arab Spring uprisings to have successfully held peaceful elections — which it did in December — the regional upheaval has pummeled foreign investment, and Essid told parliament on Tuesday that unemployment among educated Tunisians was now around 30%. These are the kinds of conditions that helped bring thousands of people into the streets in 2011 to drive out Tunisia’s longtime dictator — but also the kinds that can drive a young, resentful population toward extremism.

Indeed, officials believe about 3,000 Tunisians have left the country to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, including ISIS, over the past four years. Tunisia’s most wanted terrorist, Ahmed al-Rouissi, was killed in Libya only two days ago, fighting with ISIS jihadists in the coastal city of Sirt. The government has long warned about the dangers the country faces as these battle-hardened fighters return home.

Militant groups in rural areas have staged attacks for several months on military personnel and police officers, killing several of them. Essid told parliament just this week that police had uncovered several big weapons caches in the remote southern desert, and dismantled militant cells. On Monday, Tunisian police arrested 22 people in Kairouan, a small central city, for allegedly recruiting locals for jihadist training and then sending them across Tunisia’s eastern border into Libya, which is wracked by militant violence and rising ISIS activity. Many believed it was only a matter of time before this violence spread to the country’s capital.

Early reports suggested that the attack might have been well planned and carefully timed. At the moment the gunmen attacked the parliament, lawmakers were debating a tough new antiterrorism law. The attack might also have timed in order to target foreigners, since Mediterranean cruise ships dock each Wednesday in Tunis’ La Goulette harbor. There, coach buses ferry tourists to the Bardo museum, which sits on the same downtown compound as the parliament building.

The fact that foreign tourists were killed seems sure to create major new problems for Tunisia, whose economy relies heavily on European visitors. For years, the country has been a favorite, close getaway for French tourists, with Paris a two-hour flight from its former colony, and with no laws banning alcohol or bikinis on the beaches. After the upheaval of the Arab Spring, many tourists stayed away. But in recent months Tunisian tourism posters in the Paris Metro have assured the French that they wanted them back in big numbers, and that the country was safe — a contrast, say, from other popular North African destinations like Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

But it will be hard for officials to offer such assurances now. “This will be very, very bad for the country,” Mounir Khelifa, an English professor at Tunis’ Manoubia University, told TIME by phone shortly after the attack. “Tunisia has been hovering between hope and fear. Now, if the economy is hurt, there will probably be strikes and protests, and then who will care about building up democratic institutions?”

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