Tunis — Tunisia may be far away from Mali, but the country is feeling the effects of sprawling transnational jihadism.
Eleven Tunisians were among 32 terrorists who carried out the In Amenas attack, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on Monday (January 21st).
The announcement came four days after Tunisian security services dismantled a terrorist network in the south-eastern area of Medenine, along the border with Libya and Algeria.
The anti-terror unit seized hand grenade capsules, a quantity of TNT explosive material, a group of detonators, anti-tank mines and illumination fireworks. They also confiscated more than 1 kilometre of explosive fuse, 1,800 bullets of two different calibres, Kalashnikov cartridges, goggles, military uniforms, communication devices and mattresses for military training.
The suspects allegedly operated an arms-smuggling ring in several regions of the country.
"Tunisia is apparently turning into a corridor for the passage of Libyan weapons to northern Mali," President Moncef Marzouki said in an interview with France24.
Tunisian jihadists have ties with regional terrorist forces, the president noted.
The Medenine operation, which coincided with the brazen attack on the Algerian gas field, raises the spectre of a growing transnational terror network that seeks to destabilise the region and recruit fighter for Mali.
"The number of Tunisian jihadists is now estimated in thousands, including some fighting in Syria, and some others in Mali," said Mohamed Ben Zikri, a professor of international relations. "This is natural because the salafist groups have taken advantage of disappointment and despair among Tunisian young people, especially those who were released from prisons, to attract and recruit them for terrorist organisations."
He argued that the Tunisian government and society must brace themselves for the jihadists' return to Tunisia "and what can happen after".
Journalist Rim Saidi commented that Tunisia is "one of the biggest countries in exporting terrorism". Tunisian terrorists have been "among the masterminds in al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups", according to Saidi.
Faced with this growing jihadist wave, the government urged all Tunisians and national forces to shoulder their responsibility in countering violence in order to isolate the extremist groups.
It also urged Maghreb countries to unify their security efforts and policies because they are the most affected by the fallout of the Mali crisis.
"We're closely following what's happening in that hornet's nest, as that nest can pose a threat to the security of several countries, including Tunisia," Marzouki said last Saturday.