Tunis — Tunisian security forces killed several terrorists in an operation against an armed group suspected of an attack this week, AFP quoted the interior ministry as saying Friday (October 18th).
Two members of the Tunisian National Guard were killed during the confrontation, in the region of Gbollat in the governorate of Beja, 100 kilometres west of the capital.
"Special forces from the interior ministry, the National Guard and the army took part in this operation. It began with air strikes and we are now in the terrestrial phase," ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said.
"Several terrorists have been killed, but we can't say how many as the operation is on-going," he added.
It was the third attack conducted by armed terrorist groups in recent days in the western part of Tunisia. On Wednesday, gunmen attacked the National Guard border post in El Mella in the province of Ghardimaou, Jendouba Governorate, while another group attacked the Faj Hassine border post in the same area. The attackers exchanged fire with security elements before retreating.
Journalist Nizar Dridi considered these events to be an inevitable result of the previous threats of Ansar al-Sharia leader Abou Iyadh to target security forces. They also intend to relieve pressure on the armed groups present in Jebel Chaambi, according to the journalist.
Tunisian forces have been hunting down extremist Islamist militants for a number of months on the border with Algeria, especially in the area of Jebel Chaambi in Kasserine governorate.
"The security situation is unstable across the region and events are escalating. The Tunisian army took long ago the necessary precautions and preventative and operational measures," Defence Ministry Spokesman Taoufik Rahmouni said on October 11th.
Tunisian army units last week also sent security and military reinforcements to the border region with Libya, after receiving warnings of attacks by armed groups allied with Ansar al-Sharia.
Faced with this situation, an atmosphere of tension and anxiety has been looming recently over Tunisians. They fear increased terrorist attacks and the possibility of armed groups in Libya conducting attacks on the eastern border of Tunisia on the one hand, and the storming of al-Qaeda elements of border areas with Western Algeria on the other.
"These terrorist activities indicate the growth of armed groups, especially cross-border ones and the ones stationed there," taxi driver Moncef Loumi said.
"They gained a certain confidence and that is what made them come out of their strongholds and penetrate the internal regions of the country to carry out attacks aimed at disrupting the security system, ensuring proper deployment and positioning themselves within the country," he added.
Loumi noted that recent terrorist attacks demonstrated co-ordination and continuity between the various armed groups deployed on the border. He pointed out that the fear now was the possibility of Tunisia becoming a corridor through which terrorism passes or a stronghold used by al-Qaeda to carry out its plans in the region.
For his part, international relations expert Mohamed Ben Zekri said that the Arab Spring had opened up new areas for terrorist groups and allowed them to position themselves in the border triangle area between Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.
Chaos has prevailed in the region since the fall of the regimes in Tunisia and Libya, which explains why recent terrorist operations all start from the borders, according to the expert.
"The frontiers are being used as strongholds by terrorist groups, where they hide and train." Ben Zekri concluded.