Then-Ambassador Donald Blome (right) and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi of Tunisia (left) rename the street in front of Embassy Tunisia, March 6, 2021, in honor of the late Taoufik Missaoui who died defending the embassy from a suicide bombing attack. During the ceremony they also broke ground for a memorial nearby in honor of the fallen hero. Photo by Zouhair Sfaxi
By Chris Bakken and Barbara Gleason
Tunisian police officer Lt. Taoufik Missaoui was parked in his assigned location outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia, March 6, 2020, when two men on a motorcycle suspiciously stopped outside a security barrier near the embassy’s VIP vehicle entrance. Missaoui immediately exited his vehicle to investigate, when the men, who were suicide attackers, detonated the explosives-laden vests they were wearing. Missaoui was killed, and several other police officers and one embassy employee were injured by the blast. Missaoui, was posthumously promoted to Major for his heroism.
To commemorate the two year anniversary of that terrorist attack, Regional Security Officer Chris Bakken and Foreign Service National Investigator Mohamed Ali “Dali” Mcharek met for lunch with Missaoui’s widow, June 11.
As they left the Embassy, Bakken and Dali waved at the local police outside, many of whom were colleagues of the fallen officer, and who continued to protect the Embassy after Missaoui’s passing.
“We appreciated their 24-hour service in the sweaty, mind-numbing, heat,” said Bakken. Dali, a dual citizen and former U.S. Army interpreter in Iraq, and Bakken, a former U.S. Marine Corps grunt and Marine Security Guard, have personal experience with the discomfort and sometimes dangerous challenges involved in providing security for their country. The woman they were to visit also understood those dangers through her own personal experience of losing a loved one.
“Like so many local guards, police, and Marines at U.S. embassies throughout the world, Maj. Missaoui had sacrificed his life to defend his country’s strategic and important partnership with the United States,” said Bakken. “But his story doesn’t end there, because the embassy, other federal offices, and the entire community rallied to help his family.”
Only a week after the attack, a group of embassy employees and the local employee association created virtual and physical donation boxes where people could offer financial support to Missaoui’s family. Not long after that, the Diplomatic Security Special Agents Association and the FBI Agents Association each also made generous donations to the family. The total amount donated exceeded $20,000, of which half was immediately dispersed.
“But those gifts did not come close to encompassing the full non-monetary support that people offered,” said Bakken. “The other half of the funds were kept in reserve, so that a team of technical and construction personnel from the local community and U.S. volunteers could donate their time and expertise to remodel the Missaoui house, which had been partially finished and under construction at the time of his death.” He also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the embassy’s support for the construction, so the project and its funding were put on hold, indefinitely.
In March 2021, on the one-year anniversary of Missaoui’s death, many embassy personnel, including Bakken and Dali, and others in the surrounding community gathered to rename the street in front of the embassy “Missaoui Avenue,” and break ground on a future monument to the fallen officer.
“This happened because shortly after the major’s death, Deputy Chief of Mission Greg LoGerfo asked the city and the police to consider a way to recognize the Major,” said Bakken. “We were all surprised and impressed by the city’s decision to rename the street and create a future monument in his honor.”
When Dali and Bakken made their way to visit Missaoui’s widow, July 11, they went to present the second half of the donated funds to the family.
“As we drove through the Missaoui neighborhood, Dali pointed to a lovely park nearby and said it also had been dedicated to Major Missaoui,” said Bakken.
As they went up to the residence, Missaoui’s wife, brother, and two sons met them at the door.
“I noticed that the house had been professionally transformed into a beautiful bright and modern space since my last solemn visit in 2020 when the house, although neat and well-kept, was under construction and in need of repair,” said Bakken. “Apparently, the police union had partnered with the family to finish their planned renovations after the death of the family’s patriarch, and the results were very impressive—a sterling symbol of how police everywhere always pitch in to take care of their brothers and sisters who sacrifice to protect the peace.”
“Although the financial support was very meaningful and necessary, somehow, for them, the street dedication, the neighborhood Missaoui Park, the Ambassador’s and Minister’s words at the ground-breaking of the memorial, and interactions like the lunch we had that day were the most important and emotionally valuable expressions of the gratitude and sympathy for their loss,” said Bakken. “The Missaoui story is only one of many heartfelt examples of the close connection and collaboration that embassies share with their local communities throughout the world.”
Chris Bakken is a diplomatic security service liaison to the Office of the Secretary of Defense Policy Division. Barbara Gleason is a public affairs and media relations specialist in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.