By Monia Ghanmi
Letters recently discovered by Iraqi intelligence outline an al-Qaeda plan to extend operations into Tunisia in effort to establish a new Islamic caliphate, media reported on Tuesday (June 5th).
In advance of the reports, Tunisian Interior Minister Ali Larayedh, on May 31st, denied any existence of such terrorist groups. He disputed rumours that al-Qaeda established camps in the forests and mountains where recruits were allegedly trained in martial arts and how to use weapons.
Earlier in May, French journalist Nicolas Beau, author of “La régente de Carthage”, claimed on his Facebook page that the Ennahda Movement began training a significant number of its supporters in camps in southern Tunisia where they learned to fight and use all kinds of weapons before deployment throughout the country.
In turn, Tunisian Union for Internal Security Forces in Tataouine Province head Anis Saàdi on Saturday denied a regional presence of these Islamist training camps, explaining that the geographical nature of the southern cities does not allow for the existence of such camps because they are completely exposed desert areas. On top of that, he added that security and military units patrol the area by land and air around the clock.
The interior minister has also denied the discovery of large weapons caches, calling the news “unfounded”.
“There are no weapons outside the framework of the legitimate state and, if there were, we would be investigating it,” Larayedh said.
Tunisian security agencies have, however, seized a number of weapons in a number of cities in Tunisia within the framework of organised smuggling operations from Libya.
Larayedh focused on a recent increase of violence in a number of provinces, acknowledging the wave of attacks carried out by extremist militant salafists who are attempting to impose strict Islamic law.
He called the acts carried out under the guise of religion “crimes against the public”.
To counter the violence, Larayedh said Tunisia would enforce the Emergency Law “with full stringency in order to eliminate chaos until security is restored”. This would apply to anyone who resorts to violence regardless of any religious, political or social cover, he said.
He reminded the public that the law authorises police to use live rounds if necessary. The minister noted the Emergency Law has been in effect since January 14th, 2011 and has been extended from May 1st until next July, providing broad powers and protection for intervening parties while deterring offenders.
The crackdown on the violence comes at the onset of the tourist season.
“Our greatest fear is that the Salafists inject themselves and interfere in the actions of tourists, whether on the beaches or in hotels,” Ghassan Rouissi said on the possibility of salafist activities undermining tourism in Tunisia.
“I expect that this movement will ban mixed beaches, revealing clothing and alcohol,” he said.
Larayedh asserted that interior ministry would take charge of securing the tourist season and Tunisian beaches against the possibility of an extension of Salafist violence, vowing that tourists need not fear because the beaches would be protected.