Tunisia Pursues Armed Groups Affiliated With Al-Qaeda

Tunisian security forces continue to track terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda amid reports that some of these groups include Algerian nationals, writes Mohammad Yassin al-Jalassi.

al-monitor Tunisian soldiers are being maimed by militant-planted land mines in western Tunisia. Here, Tunisian soldiers fire their rifles during the Feast of the Martyrs in Tunis, April 9, 2013. .

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tunisia, islamist rise in tunisia, islamist

May 8, 2013

In Tunisia, scouting operations continue in Jebel ech Chambi, in the province of Kasserine in the west of the country, in search of militants holed up in the area adjacent to Algeria, which is known for its rough terrain.

According to authorities, the fact that these groups are affiliated with al-Qaeda makes it even more difficult to track them down. They have planted land mines so as to impede the progress of the Tunisian armed forces. A number of soldiers have been seriously injured while searching for militants during the past few days.

Since the beginning of the month, Tunisia has been alert to the outcome of the military operations in Kasserine, amid fear of a failed tourist season and a proliferation of arms in the country.

Yesterday [May 7], the president of the republic, Moncef Marzouki, visited the Jebel ech Chambi region, accompanied by the commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rachi Ammar. The armed forces have declared the region to be a closed military zone. The president wanted to be informed of the military operations and boost the morale of soldiers.

During the past few days, four mines have exploded, causing serious injuries in the ranks of the army and the national guard, resulting in physical disabilities. The number of injured has reached 17 soldiers and police since the beginning of the scouting operations.

According to military and security reports, although the mines that exploded in Jebel ech Chambi were homemade, they were planted in a professional way by terrorists. This came as a surprise to mine experts and the Tunisian army in particular; the army has not been accustomed to such methods of confrontation.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mokhtar bin Nasser said the mines planted by armed groups in Jebel ech Chambi used ammonium nitrate; this made it hard for devices used by the army and the national guard to detect the mines.

He said the scouting operations were launched April 29. He added that last week, security forces discovered a cache containing tapes and books on how to make conventional explosives.

"Terrorists have carefully and diligently planted mines. However, the army managed to destroy 16 militant hideouts, where terrorists used to run and coordinate their operations," he said.

He added that at this stage, no end is in the sight regarding the issue of militants still hiding in Jebel ech Chambi.

For his part, Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali al-Aroui said during a media conference that the terrorist groups that are being tracked down include Algerians. However, he refused to specify numbers, stressing that these groups are linked to a terrorist cell that the authorities detected in the country last year.

Aroui also reported that the total number of terrorists in the Jebel ech Chambi region amounts to about 20 people, but he also stressed that another group is being tracked at the same time in a border province near Jebel ech Chambi. This group includes 15 people.

He added that the Ministry of Interior has finally arrested 37 people involved in these activities among the groups in Jebel ech Chambi. He emphasized the success of the security forces in foiling "the terrorist plot" targeting Tunisia.

"We have surrounded the two groups and have arrested [on May 6] the main person who was providing the group in Jebel ech Chambi with food supplies," he said.

Moreover, according to security reports, the armed group that is being tracked down in Jebel ech Chambi is linked to the so-called "Uqba ibn Nafi Battalion," which is affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The militant group has chosen this rugged region with its thick forests to establish a logistics base. This comes within its plan to spread throughout the Tunisian territories and gradually expand terrorist acts in the country. Also, this region would serve as a launch pad for similar operations in Algeria, as the Algerian army has been tightening its grip on the armed groups operating there.

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