The Ministry of the Interior released a statement Thursday evening on the results of several raids which took place throughout Tunisia on Wednesday and Thursday which saw four members of the National Guard as well as four suspected terrorists killed and nearly forty suspects arrested. The Ministry of the Interior declared it had discovered links between some of those arrested or killed and the four major terrorist attacks (Bardo, Sousse, Tunis and Ben Guerdane) which have taken place in Tunisia since March of 2015.
The arrests began after National Guard units raided a house occupied by what the Ministry of the Interior described as “dangerous terrorists” in the Mnhila neighborhood, a northwestern suburb of Tunis in the Governorate of Ariana on the morning of Wednesday, May 11, killing two militants and arresting 16 others.
According to a Ministry of the Interior press release on Wednesday the suspects in Mnhila, from different regions of Tunisia, were converging on the capital region ‘to prepare synchronized terrorist attacks.’
Later on Wednesday, information received from the Mnhila operation led to the second raid in Tataouine during which one of the entrenched terrorists detonated a suicide vest which killed four members of the National Guard, while a second suspected terrorist killed during an initial exchange of gunfire prior to the blast.
In both raids a number of weapons including Kalashnikovs, pistols, ammunition and grenades were seized. Several local media outlets have reported, citing security sources, that several of the suspects in Ettadhamen took part in the March 7, attack on Ben Guerdane. The Ministry's statements later on Thursday added ties to the attacks on the Bardo Musuem, the Sousse beach attack and the Tunis suicide bombing in November.
Ministry of the Interior's Thursday Statement
In addition to sixteen arrests which resulted from initial security operations in or near Mnihla (Governorate of Ariana) a further 21 arrests have been made, bringing the total number of suspects arrested to 37.
According to the statement 'most' of those arrested were already wanted by 'various security organizations' and 'were monitored by units of the National Guard for more than four months'.
Previous statements had declared the suspects had been gathering in Ariana, a suburb of Tunis, to carry out simultaneous attacks on vital institutions in the capital. Thursday's statement adds security and local officials were also being monitored and photographed as possible targets.
In conclusion the Interior Ministry statement said some of those arrested or 'liquidated' had ties not only to the March 7, attack on Ben Guerdane but also to the Bardo, Sousse and Tunis attacks and had been in contact with domestic terrorists in the mountains spanning the governorates of Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine and Kef as well as with Tunisian foreign fighters with the Daesh (Islamic State) organization in Libya, Syria and Iraq.
Prior Warning from Interior Minister
Less than a month ago Interior Minister, Hedi Majdoub, had warned the Security and Defense Committee of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People’s (ARP) during a hearing on Wednesday, April 27 had warned of attack risks along the lines of what appears to have been uncovered this week. Minister Majdoub told the Security and Defense Committee that “The Interior Ministry received intelligence that terrorist groups affiliated with [Islamic State] in Libya are planning suicide bombings against police as well as other attacks in Greater Tunis” (Tunis and the surrounding Governorates of Ariana, Ben Arous, and Manouba)
“I do not want to scare people … but threats exist.” Minister Majdoub said before describing what he called ‘a campaign of psychological warfare’ against Tunisian security and military personnel by “Daech” using a variation on the name of the Islamic State. According to Majdoub threats against security and military personnel had increased, whether through social media or in through threats directed against individual personnel including several who have had threats written on the walls of their homes.
During his hearing before the ARP's Security and Defense Committee Interior Minister Majdoub gave testimony stating that thus far in 2016 (to April):
• 1,733 counterterrorism related raids had been conducted.
• 33 ‘terrorist cells’ had been dismantled in various governorates throughout Tunisia.
• 1400 individuals had been brought before justice on charges of belonging to terrorist organizations.
• 140 individuals ‘linked to sending youths into conflict zones’ had been arrested.
• 1800 individuals have been barred from leaving Tunisia on suspicion of wanting to travel to conflict zones.
2015: Bardo, Sousse, Tunis
On March 18, 2015 two gunmen believed to have been trained in militant camps outside of the Libyan city of Sabratha killed twenty two people, twenty one of whom were foreign tourists at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.
In June 2015 a lone gunman, also believed to have received training in camps in Sabratha, Libya, killed thirty eight foreign tourists at a beachside resort in Sousse.
The Islamic State affiliated, Jund al-Khilafah, claimed responsibility for the Bardo and Sousse attacks, and in November also claimed to be behind a suicide bombing in central Tunis which killed twelve members of Tunisia’s Presidential Guard as they boarded a bus to shuttle them from the Ministry of the Interior to the Presidential Palace in Carthage. Tunisian officials have stated that the explosives used in the Tunis bomb attack were of a ‘similar type’ to explosives seized earlier in 2015 which had been fabricated in Libya.
U.S. Airstrike on Sabratha
On February 19, 2016, a U.S. airstrike targeted Tunisian militants outside the Libyan city of Sabratha. The primary target of the airstrike was Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian Militant wanted Tunisian authorities for his role in the Bardo National Museum attack in March 2015, according to local Libyan sources the U.S. airstrike killed over 50 suspected militants, the vast majority of whom were Tunisian nationals.
After the Sousse attack the Tunisian authorities began construction on a 250 km ‘security barrier’ a system of interconnected moats, trenches and fences along the portion of Tunisia’s border with Libya between the Ras Jedir and Dhehiba border crossings; north of a closed military zone farther south which covers much of the Governorate of Tataouine.
At a ceremony marking the completion of the security barrier's initial phase of construction in early February, Defense Minister Farhat Horchani announced the United States and Germany would assist Tunisia in installing an 'advanced electronic surveillance system' along the security barrier. On Sunday March 6, Defense Minister Horchani told Mosaique FM that military engineers from the U.S. and Germany were expected to arrive in Tunisia on Monday, March 7, to begin a study on installing an advanced electronic surveillance system along Tunisia’s border with Libya.
March 2016: Ben Guerdane
The city of Ben Guerdane, near the Libyan border was assaulted at dawn on March 7, the day the U.S. and German advisors were to have arrived at the nearby Ras Jedir border crossing, by scores of terrorists who simultaneously attacked individual security personnel and installations including a military barracks in a day long attack that resulting in over sixty deaths, including twelve security personnel and seven civilians.
Estimates of Tunisians who have left the country to join militant organizations range from 3,000 to 6,000, approximately half of whom are believed to be in Libya.