Mali Jihadist Threat Spreading in the RegionMay 10, 2013 in Mali, Tunisia
Tunisia’s Interior Minister Lotti Ben Jeddou has indicated that jihadists who are being pursued by the army on Tunisia’s border with Algeria, are veterans of the on-going war that is taking place in Mali. This effectively demonstrates the heightened risk that militants may have likely crossed the borders into neighboring countries to seek shelter from bomb raids that were occurring in March and in April and to regroup and launch attacks in those countries that are participating in the war.
During an open session in the national assembly, the Interior Minister indicated that “they came from Mali,” further citing that “I would have liked this to be a closed session to be able to say more.” He the Minister was unable to provide further information, due to the ongoing operations in the region, he admitted that the militants have links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb however he did not indicate whether the fighters from Mali had joined jihadist groups in Tunisia before or after France’s military intervention. This has raised concerns about the security threat posed by Tunisia’s increasingly assertive Muslim extremists and increased fears of possible revenge attacks by al-Qaeda’s north Africa affiliates.
Although few details were provided, it is known that Tunisia’s army intensified its search for the two fugitive Islamist groups a week ago when bombs planted by the militants began causing injuries to the armed forces that were searching the area. So far, sixteen soldiers and national guards have been wounded, some are in serious condition. It is believed that the groups may be hiding in the remote border region. They are being blamed for an attack that was carried out on a border post last December 2012. That attack resulted in the death of one police officer. According to the Interior Minister, the two groups consist of around thirty people. One of the groups is located around Mount Chaambi and consists of up to twenty fighters in which half of them are Tunisian and half are Algerian. This group has been pursued since the deadly attack on the border post in December. The second smaller group is believed to be based in the Kef region, which is located 100 kilometers (60 miles) further north, but also on the Algerian border. In the past three days, two alleged accomplices of the jihadists have been arrested, bringing the number of suspects detained in the region since December to thirty-seven. Algeria has also boosted surveillance on its side of the border in order to prevent the group from crossing into Algeria.
Since the January 2011 revolution, which effectively ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has seen a proliferation of radical Islamist groups that were suppressed under the former dictator. Since then, these groups have been blamed for a wave of violence, notably an attack on the US embassy last September and the assassination of a a leftist opposition leader in February.