Tunis — A plot to create a Tunisian branch of al-Qaeda was just broken up along the Algerian border.
Tunisia thwarted an attempt by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to establish a terror cell in the western regions of Kasserine and Jendouba, Interior Minister Ali Larayedh announced on Friday (December 21st).
"We have discovered a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in a training camp run by three Algerians close to AQIM leader Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud" (aka Abdelmalek Droukdel), Larayedh said.
Sixteen suspected cell members were taken into custody on December 13th, according to the minister.
The AQIM cell also stands accused of carrying out the December 10th killing of a Tunisian National Guard officer in Kasserine province. Twenty-seven year old Anis Jlassi was killed when a gunfight broke out with militants.
According to the interior minister, the suspects in the terror network were planning to carry out acts of sabotage in Tunisia. He added that the terrorists rounded up during the past two weeks belong to the Uqba Ibn Nafi battalion, affiliated with AQIM.
Larayedh said that al-Qaeda was aiming to form a camp in Tunisia at the border and to establish an organisation associated with al-Qaeda. Their goal was to carry out subversive activities under the banner of jihad.
He pointed out that al-Qaeda was also trying to attract young members who embrace their hard-line ideology. The terror network is also attempting to train the recruits militarily and ideologically, before sending them to camps in Libya and Algeria for further instruction.
Larayedh explained that the terror training camp site was chosen to avoid detection.
The interior minister said police found TNT, weapons, large quantities of ammunition, military maps, binoculars, encrypted documents and uniforms.
Eight members of the terror cell were captured in Jendouba earlier this month in an operation shortly after the Kasserine clash. At the time, interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche said suspects were stopped near Fernana, where security officers found detonators and explosives.
However, other terror suspects managed to escape and went into hiding on Jebel Chambi, the highest mountain in Tunisia. Larayedh said the efforts of the National Guard forces, security and army continued toward catching those who are in hiding in the mountains, adding that he hoped the operation would not take too long.
The minister confirmed that they had Kalashnikov rifles smuggled from Libya and Algeria. Larayedh also revealed that some detainees were seen in demonstrations and protests as well as at camps organised by Ansar al- Sharia, the most rigid jihadi salafist organisation in Tunisia.
"Yet we have no evidence of organisational links between this group that is being formed and Ansar al-Sharia," Larayedh added. In this context the Tunisian interior minister called on parents to keep an eye on their children so they wouldn't get lured into adventures with "no good purpose or end, neither in this world nor in the hereafter".
He added that some young people were being dragged into listening to dangerous calls, suggesting that Tunisia was a land of sermonising or jihad.
"These are the wrong calls based on a deviant understanding that has no basis in religion and reason," the interior minister said. He stressed that Tunisia is a land of science and technology where the objectives of freedom and justice will be achieved.
Larayedh ended his Friday press conference with a message of reassurance to the Tunisian people, saying, "What al-Qaeda is seeking to establish in Tunisia has no future; we reject them and reject their goals and approach."
"Our military and security forces are on the lookout to dismantle any group that uses violence as a method," he added.