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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Tunisia Faces Terror Threats from the Mountains

Counterterrorism & Security

Ahmed Nadhif

Tue, 22 Jan 2019 13:46 GMT

The Tunisian authorities said last month they had uncovered a jihadi organization in the central city of Sidi Bouzid which was planning terrorist attacks. The Tunisian Ministry of Interior said in an official statement that "National Unity of the Crimes of Terrorism, discovered a terrorist organization calling itself 'Jihad and Tawhid Brigade' with allegiance to the leader of a terrorist organization abroad, arrested most of its members and prevented planned terrorist attacks on patrols and security headquarters."

The ministry confirmed that during the operation it seized weapons, explosive belts and raw materials for making explosives, saying the Public Prosecutor's Office in the anti-terrorism court recommended the imprisonment of eight members of the organization. This came a few days after the discovery of an explosives manufacturing base in the area of Lessouda in Sidi Bouzid province, during which the security services seized materials for making explosives, grenades and remote controls.

It seems that jihadist groups active in Tunisia are more focused than ever on being in cities. A number of terror cells and small organizations active in cities have been dismantled, in parallel with their activity in the mountains on the border with Algeria. In late November, the authorities discovered four cells of 12 people who were planning attacks with vehicles, explosions and knives; explosive and chemical materials were seized and an explosives expert arrested.

Since 2012, mountain-based groups have moved from engagement with government forces and planting mines in mountainous areas to towns and villages, killing collaborators and robbing banks.

On December 20th, an armed group robbed a bank in Sbiba in the western province of Kasserine and got away with some 300,000 dinars. This is the second robbery of its kind in the past few months. In August, Kasserine province witnessed the armed robbery of a bank by 11 terrorists who seized a man’s car at the foot of Mount Salloum before attacking the bank using Kalashnikovs and fleeing to the mountains.

In the wake of the collapse of the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, jihadi activities escalated dramatically and rapidly, but never previously saw armed robberies in the country as they relied on external funding, especially from extremist groups in neighbouring Libya and other charitable and advocacy organizations.

An expert on extremist groups, Dr Obaid al-Khalifi, said in an interview with 7Dnews that the movement of terrorist activities in Tunisia from mountains to cities was mainly due to "political conflicts which are a sign of the weakness of the state and its executive bodies, handing terrorist groups the initiative and the element of surprise”. Economic difficulties will push the country towards waves of protest that will exhaust the security establishment. "I do not think that today's rulers are concerned with terrorism other than to use it to suppress freedoms," he said.

Al-Khalifi added: "The security and military establishment will not be effective in fighting the terrorist phenomenon if the political establishment does not have a comprehensive and coherent vision for reducing frequent terrorist operations in the short term, and in the long term for dealing with the social and economic causes of terrorism."

The Tunisian authorities' war against terrorist groups appears to be continuing, despite the shrinking activity of these groups over the years between 2011 and 2015. They continue to pose a threat to security and cast a shadow over the difficult economic and social conditions of the country, as legislative and presidential elections approach.

Middle East