Ben Jeddou: Tunisia faces regional and domestic terror threats

Ben Jeddou: Tunisia faces regional and domestic terror threats
Tunisia is facing significant regional terrorist threats, particularly from Libya, according to the country's interior minister in an exclusive interview.
3 min read
23 November, 2014
Tunisia's interior minister warns about security threat to the country [Anadolu]
Tunisia's Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said the country faces domestic and regional security risks in an interview with al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Tunisia deployed extra security for Sunday's presidential elections in part, Jeddou said, because of intelligence suggesting the jihadist group Katibat Uqbah Ibn Nafi was preparing to carry out attacks to disrupt the poll.

"We have closed all entrances to the cities, established patrols and laid ambushes", he said.

     The government must counter the "brainwashing" young Tunisians are receiving from extremist groups.
He also said the security measures were extraordinary and stopgap. To eliminate threats from domestic terror groups, he said, it was important to strike them in their mountain hideouts.

However, despite a huge increase in government spending on security measures, including the recruitment of thousands of police officers, terrorists have continued carrying out attacks on civilian and military targets in mountain regions. A recent attack on a military bus in Nebour village on 5 November killed four soldiers.

Moreover, over 500 people receive special protections, including when they travel outside the country. Jeddou said maintaining this level of protection is unsustainable.

Morale, nevertheless, is high among police officers, who are well-equipped and receive hazard pay to ensure they work hard, he said. 

Intelligence indicates that around 30 veteran terrorists from Algeria have recently joined Katibat Uqbah Ibn Nafi and that two thirds of the group's members are Algerians. There are also some Nigerians and Malians in the group, which is funded by wealthy individuals who subscribe to the ultra-extremist ideology and receive weapons from Libya.

Regional threat

Ben Jeddou said Tunisian intelligence knows the identities of the Algerians and security forces are trying to target them. But the regional identity of many of the group's members, argued Jeddou, meant Tunisia was dealing with a regional rather than domestic terrorist threat in this instance.

On the domestic front, he said the military and security wings of the Tunisian arm of Ansar al-Sharia had been dismantled, and its leaders killed, imprisoned or escaped to Libya where they are currently been tracked down. There, Ansar al-Sharia members currently disagree over whether they should declare loyalty to the Islamic State group (IS) or al-Qaeda.

Jeddou also estimated there to be between 2,500 and 3,000 Tunisians fighting in Syria. Approximately 50 have returned disillusioned by the reality they witnessed, and after being forced to loot and destroy cities, and witness the torture of locals. He said it was important that the government respond with a programme to counter the "brainwashing" young Tunisians are receiving from extremist groups, and their "selective interpretation of religious scriptures".

In addition, a new terrorism law is due to be passed by the next parliament. Among other things, the law will give immunity or reduced sentences to anyone providing information preventing terrorist attacks. The Tunisian military is also well-equipped, he said, and has received armoured vehicles from Turkey as well as US-made planes equipped with night surveillance equipment.
     Libya is regarded as a major regional threat.

Ben Jeddou also said Tunisia's borders should be electronically monitored, and for surveillance cameras to be installed on streets in cities to monitor smaller offences, so security officers can focus on anti-terrorists activities.

Libya is the major regional source of instability, according to the minister. But the IS group is also planning to expand into the country, and the city of Derna is close to declaring allegiance to the group. Jeddou also alleged that authorities had identified a camp in northwest Libya set up specifically to train militants for operations in Tunisia. 

And the risk spreads beyond the region. Even Europe is at risk, the minister said, with gangs possessing speedboats that can quickly cross the Mediterranean Sea. Jeddou said he would like to see an international action to manage the situation.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.