(AFP) – The Tunisian government said Thursday that 37 suspects, including several jihadists linked to the Islamic State group, had been arrested in the security operations carried out the previous day.
Two “dangerous and wanted terrorists” were killed during the raid Wednesday in Mnihla near the capital, while 16 suspected jihadists were arrested, the interior ministry said Thursday.
Another 21 other suspects were arrested in raids that followed, the ministry added.
All those arrested were members of “terrorist cells operating across (Tunisian) territory”.
“They have been monitored and followed by the national guard for more than four months,” the statement said.
In a deadly confrontation that erupted during one of the raids in the Tataouine governorate, four policemen were killed when a militant detonated his explosives belt after a firefight erupted.
The men arrested in the raids had all been trained in the use of firearms, the ministry said.
“They were preparing to gather in Tunis to attack vital, sensitive targets in the capital and the rest of the country, as well as security positions and agents,” it said.
The suspects had been planning bomb and “suicide attacks”, it added.
Some of those arrested were “implicated in the terrorist acts that hit the Bardo Museum, the Imperial hotel at Sousse, the presidential guard’s bus and most recently Ben Guerdane,” the statement said.
– ‘Links’ to IS –
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, has suffered from a wave of jihadist violence since its 2011 revolution that ousted longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
IS claimed brazen attacks last year on the Bardo Museum in Tunis and the beach resort near Sousse that killed a total of 60 people, all but one of them foreign tourists.
A November suicide bombing in the capital, also claimed by IS, killed 12 presidential guards and prompted the authorities to declare a state of emergency.
Ben Guerdane, one of the North African nation’s poorest towns, was the target of a jihadist assault that killed seven civilians and 13 security personnel in March as well as 55 extremists.
“They were also active elements of the terrorist groups in the Tunisian mountains… and had links with Tunisian members of… Daesh in Libya, Syria and Iraq,” the statement said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
None of the suspects’ identities were revealed.
Thousands of Tunisians have joined jihadist groups in conflict zones such as Iraq, Syria and Libya over the past few years.