Between Thursday and Sunday a total of nineteen suspected militants were arrested in five Tunisian governorates including several suspects accused of ties to the Ben Guerdane attack in March and ties to Jund al-Khilafah and the terrorist training camps bombed by the U.S. in February outside Sabratha, Libya.
The Ministry of the Interior announced it had arrested the suspected leader of a ‘terrorist cell’ of six ‘takfiris’, in Sfax on Sunday April, 17. In addition to the ‘leader’, whom according to the Ministry statement had returned from fighting in Syria, four individuals were detained in Mahres and Skhira in the Governorate of Sfax, while a sixth suspect was arrested in Sousse.
On Thursday, April 14, the Ministry of the Interior announced the arrest of twelve ‘takfiris’ in four governorates including Sfax, Kef, Monastir and Kasserine and seized over a hundred ‘electrical components’ used to detonate explosives.
The suspects arrested on Thursday are accused of having been in contact with elements of the terrorist organization Jund al-Khilafah operating in the mountains of Kasserine.
Those arrests were followed by the arrest of what the Ministry of the Interior called a ‘very dangerous terrorist’ on Friday, in Kasserine. The suspect was identified by MosaiqueFM as Abdelhamid Chaabani, who had received training at camps outside Sabratha, Libya. MosaiqueFM citing a security source stated that Chaabani had been captured while attempting to join his brother, who was wounded in an explosion in Libya and is currently hiding in the mountains of Kasserine.
According to Tunis Afrique Presse who did not name the suspect, the suspect ‘also admitted he had ties with the events of Ben Guerdane and relations with a terrorist group called “Daesh in Libya,”‘ another name for the Islamic State organization.
Jund al-Khilafah was believed by Tunisian officials to operate training camps outside Sabratha in which all three Tunisian gunmen responsible for the Bardo and Sousse attacks received training. In addition to the Sousse and Bardo attacks Jund al Khilafah claimed responsibility the suicide bombing in Tunis in November which killed twelve members of Tunisia’s Presidential Guard and the murder of sixteen year old Mabrouk Soltani.
In February the U.S. launched an airstrike against training camps in the western Libyan city of Sabratha. The strikes targeted and reportedly killed Noureddine Chouchane, suspected amongst other terrorism related activities of involvement in the Bardo attack in March of 2015.
The United Nations estimates that more than 5,500 Tunisians, have joined militant groups abroad a significant portion of which have joined the Islamic State in Libya.