Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Troop casualties in Tunisia prompt action against rise in militant groups

Ten Tunisian special forces are combing minefields in forests around Mount Chaambi on the Algerian-Tunisian border in a search for a militant group. Alice Fordham reports from Tunis

TUNIS // Tunisian special forces are combing minefields in forests around Mount Chaambi on the Algerian-Tunisian border in a search for a militant group, after 10 special forces members were wounded by homemade bombs in the past week.

The operation underscores the threat posed by extremist groups in the country, which Western and local security experts say have links with more established bodies including Al Qaeda, and groups in Libya and Syria.

According to security sources speaking to the state news agency, a "terror group" is hiding in the thick forests around the mountain, which is near the town of Kasserine.

The news agency said that the minesweeping operation began at noon on Wednesday, using heavy and light weaponry, and would likely take "a long time" but would ultimately surround the group, according to a ministry of defence spokesman. Photographs showed helicopters, dogs and masked men engaged in the operations.

Four of the troops wounded by mines sustained serious injury, including the loss of limbs, and three of them were visited in hospital by the prime minister, Ali Larayedh, on Wednesday.

The armed group is commanded by an Algerian and two Tunisians, according to a security source quoted in the Algerian daily newspaper El Watan. The same source said that Tunisian forces had been trying since December to dismantle the group, which was initially composed of 11 members and was thought to be responsible for the death of a Tunisian policeman after clashes in December last year.

Since then, El Watan reported, the group has recruited from the area and among Tunisians who have returned from fighting in Mali, and now numbers about 50.

Tunisian authorities think that as many as 500 hardline Tunisian Salafist Muslims went to northern Mali to participate in the violent occupation of the north of the country with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and related groups.

However, Tunisian interior minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou told Nessma television on May 1 that the group numbered 15 and said that another group was also operating nearby.

Tunisian authorities believe that thousands of Tunisians have gone to fight in Syria against the government of president Bashar Al Assad.

A similar incident happened in 2006, when five Tunisians and a Mauritanian entered Tunisia from Algeria with the aim of establishing a nationwide militant movement. They were crushed, with numerous casualties, by government forces.

Since an uprising swept away president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali two years ago, extreme Islamists have grown in strength, with the moderate Islamists, who dominate the government, treading a fine line between appeasing hardline ideologues and taking a firm stand against known terror threats.


twitter: For breaking news from the Gulf, the Middle East and around the globe follow The National World. Follow us

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Thai anti-government protesters blow whistles during a rally at the Metropolitan Electricity Authority in Bangkok, Thailand. Rungroj Yongrit / EPA

Best photography from around the world April 23

The NAtional View's photo editors pick the best of the day from around the world

 Iranian workers at the Iran Khodro auto plant in Tehran on March 18. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

Iran’s love of cars survives devastating sanctions

Sanctions and energy subsidy reductions might have hurt the Iranian automotive industry. But car makers at one factory are still optimistic, Yeganeh Salehi reports from Tehran

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greeted by university students as he leaves Sistan University in Sistan and Baluchestan’s provincial capital of Zahedan on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

In Iran’s most troubled province, Rouhani hears pleas for change

Hassan Rounani aims to connect with residents of far-flung Sistan and Baluchestan province.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Riyadh on March 3, 2007. Hassan Ammar / AFP Photo

Saudi Prince Bandar promised a victory he could not deliver

Saudi Arabia's controversial intelligence chief stepped down this week after rumours that his policies on Syria had fallen out of favour.

 Aiza Tonida puts out laundry amid the ruins of her parents home in Leyte province that was destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan struck central Philippines on November 8, 2013. Joey Reyna for The National

Filipinos seek Middle East jobs to rebuild lives after Haiyan

Work in the GCC seen as only hope for thousands left homeless and jobless after devastating storm in November.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National