How Star Wars’ real-life Tatooine location became deadly ISIS waypoint

In a galaxy not so far away, the real-life desert world of Tatooine has been devastated by both ISIS and now Covid.

Tataouine in south Tunisia was George Lucas's inspiration for the name of Luke Skywalker’s home planet.

Die-hard fans often made pilgrimages to film sets in the country in the fringes of the Sahara Desert.

The stunning underground "cave dwellings" of the native Berber population were always the major draw for tourists and filmmakers.

They were made a world-famous sight since their first appearance in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977, providing tourism jobs in a barren landscape where average temperatures range from -1.8C to 48.6C.

In 2012, even Nasa scientists came to the city to take a sample from a meteorite to prove that there was water on Mars.

Pieces of another meteorite, which landed in 1931, have been sold in Parisian jewellery stores.

But in March 2015, two Isis gunmen stormed into the Bardo museum in the capital Tunis, shooting 23 people dead before being killed by security forces.

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And reports soon emerged that Tataouine was being used as a base for Isis fighters to cross into the neighbouring country of Libya.

Tunisia was still recovering from the devastating Arab Spring revolution from four years ago.

But CNN revealed three young men were arrested in Tataouine as they allegedly made plans to cross the border 60 miles to the east to join a terrorist network.

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It was reported that two arms caches had been found in the region that month.

One included rocket-propelled grenade launchers and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

Tunisia's tourism officials denied there was any danger in the city following the devastating reports.

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And Star Wars fans vowed to continue to support its economy and culture using the #JeSuisBardo hashtag.

But JJ Abrams did not return to the country to film his upcoming episode of the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, using locations in Ireland, the UK and Abu Dhabi instead.

This week Tunisia begged the International Monetary Fund for a $4bn loan programme.

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The prime minister Hichem Mechichi saying it was a "last opportunity" to save the economy.

He said he expected talks to last about two months and had "confidence" Tunisia could secure financial support to help it through an economic crisis that has been aggravated by the Covid pandemic.

Tataouine's regional governor Adel Ouerghi has described the Covid situation as "very dangerous" as the area was put on red alert for the virus.

He this week called on citizens to obey social distancing rules as beds in the Covid-19 department of the Tataouine regional hospital and the local Ghomrassen hospital were fully occupied.

He said: "We are working to support the efforts of health workers by insisting on the wearing of masks and the restriction of the number of people in cafes."

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