TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian authorities arrested three suspected Islamist militants near the Libyan border on Sunday and said they uncovered a terror plot targeting industrial and tourist sites and politicians.
The three were Tunisians believed to have been living recently in Libya with backing by armed groups that train Tunisians in Libyan camps, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui.
“The goal of the terrorists was to strike directly at the national economy to spread chaos in the country,” Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa told local radio stations.
The government has blamed a string of political assassinations and terrorist attacks over the last two years on the radical Islamist Ansar al-Shariah group, also suspected in an attack by a mob in 2012 against the U.S. embassy and a nearby American school. Cars were burned and the school was destroyed before the mob of 2,000 was driven away by authorities.
Ansar al-Shariah was banned in Tunisia and its leader, Seifallh Ben Hassine, fled the country after that attack. He is believed to be hiding out in Libya with his supporters.
Sunday’s arrests were made after security forces backed by tanks stormed a home in Ben Guerdane, a town along the border with Libyan border. They found anti-tank mines, explosive belts and other weapons, said Defense Ministry spokesman Taoufik Rahmouni.
The raid was the culmination of a series of operations over the past week in which 13 other suspects were taken into custody and revealed information about the planned attacks against Tunisia’s important tourism industry and industrial sites and the politicians, Aroui said. He did not offer further details.
Tunisians overthrew their secular dictator in January 2011, launching the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings around the region. Since the revolution, there has been a rise in pro-Islamist parties, including some radical elements.
Armed groups with links to al-Qaida have battled Tunisian troops in the mountains near its border with Algeria. Two left-wing politicians were gunned down by assassins in 2013.
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