Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tunisia: Al-Qaeda tied to Jebel Chaambi militants

[AFP/Abderrazek Khlifi] Tunisian Special Forces stand guard in Kasserine as soldiers continue their hunt for a jihadist group hiding out in the border region with Algeria.
Tunisian security forces arrested 37 suspects connected to jihadist violence in Jebel Chaambi, the interior ministry revealed on Tuesday (May 7th).

Interior ministry spokesperson Mohamed Ali Aroui also said the remaining militants belonged to the Okba Ibn Nafaa brigade, which is linked to al-Qaeda. He made the announcement at a joint press conference with defence ministry spokesperson Mokhtar Ben Nasr.

The arrests included armed militants as well as elements that supplied logistic support, according to Aroui. Ten suspects were captured in Kef, while the rest were rounded up in Kasserine.

He stressed that the security forces and the army have full knowledge of the names and nationalities of the militants holed up in Kasserine and Kef.

He pointed out that the number of militants at large was between 10 and 15 terrorists in Kef and 20 in the Jebel Chaambi area of Kasserine, including 11 Algerians.

Aroui confirmed that the army and security forces were working very hard to eliminate these terrorist groups in co-ordination with Algeria and Libya.

"The armed elements holed up in Jebel Chaambi on the border with Algeria received logistic assistance of water, food and clothing from Tunisians sympathetic to them, which serves as evidence of the presence of an incubator for those insurgents who are believed to belong to al-Qaeda," defence ministry spokesperson Ben Nasr said.

Meanwhile a fourth land mine exploded on Monday morning in Jebel Chaambi, seriously wounding three army corporals. One of them, from the elite brigade of the fort of Bizerte in northern Tunisia, lost a leg. The second from the same brigade lost his eyes and sustained injuries to his face while the injuries of the third soldier were not determined.

"There is co-ordination with the Algerian authorities at both the field and intelligence levels to capture the terrorists who sought refuge in Jebel Chaambi," the defence ministry spokesman said.

He explained that "the mines that exploded were made of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and flammable materials that can easily explode when exposed to heat."

Journalist Nabil Zaghdoud commented that "nothing has changed" since the clashes with terrorists in Soliman several years ago.

"However, they were unable to this day to eliminate these terrorists and the reason is the absence of a political and sovereign decision to eliminate them and eradicate their roots with iron and fire," he added. Sadok Chourou, an Ennahda leader known as a hardliner, called for a dialogue between the government and the armed Islamists, a proposal that raised eyebrows.

Political analyst Anis Mansouri answered Chourou by saying that he was calling for "recognising the terrorists as a political party that the government sits with for dialogue".

"Their demands are the application of Sharia law, crucifixion of highwaymen, and to excommunicate as many as possible... In short, they would convert Tunisia into Afghanistan or Sudan," Mansouri added, stressing, "No dialogue and no democracy with the enemies of democracy and with those who call for violence, exercise it, justify it or defend it."

However, Ennahda chief Rachid Ghannouchi took a more moderate tone in remarks posted on the party's official Facebook page.

"We salute the heroes of the national army, the police and civil society in confronting terrorist acts and all young Islamists must know that fighting a Muslim is a heresy, debauchery and one of the greatest crimes."

Ghannouchi added, "Our police force is Muslim and so is our army and society; this so-called jihad has no place here."

By Yasmin Najjar in Tunis for Magharebia – 08/05/2013
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