The Tunisian town of Tataouine, which served as the inspiration for the fictional planet of Tatooine in the Star Wars movie franchise, has found itself party to the conflict against the Islamic State group, CNN reported.
Militants from ISIS are reportedly using the town, which lies 60 miles from the Libyan border, as a way-station while crossing the border from Tunisia into Libya. Three men were arrested in the town by local police while they were trying to cross into Libya, days before a deadly terror attack on Tunisia’s Bardo museum, which was claimed by ISIS.
Two arms caches were also found in the area in March, including one that contained rocket-propelled grenade launchers and over 20,000 rounds of ammunition, thought to have been stolen from a Libyan armory in the chaos that followed the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Tourists are being warned away from the area, which has long been popular among fans of Star Wars movies who visit the town and the nearby set where the movie was produced. Several countries have issued travel advisories for Tunisia, including the United States, which has warned travelers to avoid border areas due to “periodic security incidents." The U.K. government has also advised against “all but essential travel” to the Libyan border area.
While the town itself did not feature in the movies, it is the inspiration behind the name and aesthetic of the desert planet’s architecture, and is close to the set of the slave quarters where Anakin Skywalker resided in The Phantom Menace, according to a travelogue from the Star Wars website. Another notable location is the Lars homestead where Luke Skywalker lived in A New Hope, which was refurbished by Star Wars fans in 2012.
Star Wars fans are just one part of Tunisia’s vital tourism industry, which contributed over 15 percent of the country’s GDP and almost 14 percent of all jobs in 2014, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. The organization’s figures show that, after dipping briefly in 2011, tourism has risen again in recent years. However, the Bardo attack, targeted at a highly popular and visible tourist destination, is feared to have hurt the country's popularity as a travel destination.
However, in defiance of the militants’ aim of inducing terror, thousands of people from around the world are posting online, pledging to visit Tunisia this coming summer, in posts attached to the hashtag #jesuisbardo.