11 December 2012

Tunisia: Local Guards Face Gunfight Near Algeria Border

Tunis — For the second time in less than a week, armed extremists appear kilometres from the Tunisia-Algeria border.

A Tunisian National Guard officer died Monday (December 10th) in clashes with armed militants near the Algerian border.

The incident began when a guard at an oil company spotted "suspicious bearded men" near the Kasserine town of Bou Chebka. The border post chief in Feriana, 27-year-old Anis Jlassi, was killed in the gunfight.

The four attackers got away.

Within the past week, Tunisian forces arrested two alleged salafist jihadists in Jendouba, also along the Algeria border. A search of the suspects' all-terrain vehicle uncovered weapons, ammunition and explosives.

The suspects were also reportedly carrying hand-drawn maps showing the locations of military and security patrols.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki on December 7th voiced concern over jihadist incursions into his country.

"The persons who go to Mali for training in jihad, as was the case in the past with Afghanistan, pose a threat because they return to Tunisia afterwards," he said in an interview with London's The World Today.

Asked about the September 14th attack on the US Embassy in Tunis, he said: "I was surprised, like the government, with the attack. We didn't expect the extent of danger that the salafist jihadist could pose."

The Monday clash in Kasserine was not the first such incident.

When a Tunisian army colonel and soldier were killed in last year in Siliana, the interior ministry said that the gunmen had infiltrated the country from neighbouring Algeria. Tunisian troops and salafist jihadists also clashed in February in Sfax province.

The latest killing of the border agent only fuels anxiety on the Tunisian street.

"What we fear most is for our country to become a place for jihadists to stockpile weapons," Ezzahra cab driver Ali Soltani told Magharebia.

"I think that they are collecting weapons now and waiting for the right time to carry out their plans and declare war on those who oppose them," he said.

For Manouba teacher Mahmoud Lajmi, "terrorists and radical Islamists engaged in trafficking are the biggest threat to Tunisia and its revolution".

"People must be vigilant, stand up against them, confront and fight them, because they are a stumbling block on the road to development and progress," Lajmi added.

Some are also questioning Tunisia's ability to repel the border incursions.

"Each time an armed group infiltrates the border and kills people, reinforcements and planes are sent, but no one is arrested," TAP reporter Dhouha Talik said.

"Today's group consists of just four members, and we only see casualties among the security agents," Talik said. "I wonder what would happen against a group with hundreds of members."

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