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Security 2013-02-05

Tunisia security forces on high alert

By Monia Ghanmi for Magharebia in Tunis – 05/02/13

Facing fresh threats of home-grown terrorism and following the terror siege at the In Amenas gas complex, Tunisia is beefing up security at oil installations, particularly along its southern border.

"Highly trained and armed combat units were sent to important sites in the Tunisian desert to protect oil and gas fields in the desert triangle of the country," TAP quoted security sources as saying on Tuesday (January 29th).

Given a rise in terrorist threats and the expansion of Islamist militant movements in the Maghreb, the Tunisian government put the nation's armed forces on high alert to prevent terrorists from launching any attacks in the coming days, national security experts said.

The new security measures went into effect after Tunisian security officials recently dismantled suspected terrorist cells, discovered illicit caches of weapons scattered about the country and the government extended the state of emergency through March 2nd.

the same time, the recent ouster of terrorist groups by French forces in northern Mali forced terrorists to flee into the Libyan desert near southern Tunisia, said Bassel Torjmen, an expert on terrorism in the Maghreb.

"This situation exacerbates the risk of terrorist operations similar to In Amenas in the Algerian desert and the southern Tunisian region of the oil fields, where many oil companies operate, and could become a potential target for these groups that have started experiencing organizational collapse and disintegration due to the fighting in Mali," Torjmen told Magharebia.

"There is another threat … to be expected from groups linked to al-Qaeda in Tunisia. They could launch terrorist acts to draw media attention away from Mali, and to try to confuse the countries in the region and compel them to put pressure on France to halt its military operations in Mali," he added.

Young Tunisians have joined the ranks of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali, and AQIM could activate its sleeper cells in Tunisia in "just a matter of time", Torjmen said.

A jihadist in police custody recently confessed that AQIM was planning a series of attacks in Tunisia similar to the Algeria gas field siege last month, Echorouk reported.

Jihadist Derbala Laaroussi (aka Abu Talha Tounsi) told police interrogators that dozens of fellow militants were training in northern Mali for imminent terrorist attacks to be co-ordinated with Tunisian sleeper cells, the Algerian daily reported.

"The current security situation requires vigilance by Tunisian security forces, and regional security co-ordination, in view of the difficult situation faced by countries in the region," Mohamed Benzekri, a professor of international relations at the Université de Droit Tunis, told Magharebia.

"Thus we are in need of solidarity and security co-operation to ensure comprehensive control of common borders and find ways to combat terrorism, a problem that is complex and ever growing," he said.

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