Tunisian security forces on Saturday (March 15th) captured the number-two man in the Ansar al-Sharia terrorist organisation.
Abou Ayoub Ettounsi (real name Slim Kantari) entered Tunisian territory from Libya, the interior ministry said.
“The arrest of Abou Ayoub came as a result of security co-operation between Tunisian and Algerian intelligence services,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui told Magharebia.
“This is not the first time that we hit hard terrorist groups, thanks to Tunisian-Algerian co-operation, a co-operation that never stopped, not even for one day,” he said.
The Gabes arrest helps give security services access to important intelligence about terrorist organisations in Tunisia and the Maghreb, Aroui said.
Abou Ayoub reportedly admitted during interrogation by the anti-terror squad that “an important shipment of weapons entered Tunisia from the desert triangle linking Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria”.
The arms shipment allegedly came after the cheikh “arranged for the return of a significant number of Tunisian jihadists from Syria to provide support for terrorist sleeper cells in Tunisia”, al-Moussawer reported on March 17th.
According to the Tunisian daily, Ettounsi also revealed the addresses of jihadi leaders from three Arab nationalities present on Tunisian territory. They were preparing to fight military and security services in one of the border towns in southern Tunisia, once their reinforcements had arrived from Libya.
Abou Ayoub had himself been in Syria before his return to Tunisia, security analyst Tarek Maaroufi told Magharebia.
He came back “to revive the terrorist sleeper cells, after terrorist groups received hard blows over the past two months from Tunisian security services”, Maaroufi said.
In one such incident, a terrorist cell that recruited fighters for Syria was dismantled in Monastir.
The March 12th operation followed tips that a terrorist cell was preparing a training camp and “working to recruit and finance the travel of some young people to fight abroad”, the interior ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
Eleven members of the group were arrested. Seven were charged with the “preparation, planning, and implementation of operations that sent young people to Syria, where some of them were killed”, the public prosecutor’s office said.
Similar cells may be uncovered following Abou Ayoub’s arrest. He had been sought by Tunisian intelligence operatives for more than a year.
The 30-year-old immigrated in 2006 to France. He lived there until 2010, when he was expelled over calls inciting Muslim communities to wage jihad.
Once back in Tunisia, the radical cleric continued his activities. He released a June 2012 video calling for holy war in Tunisia. He also issued a fatwa to kill 19 artists involved in the controversial Palais Abdellia exhibition.
Abou Ayoub served four months in prison for inciting the September 14, 2012 attack on the US embassy in Tunis. Then he left for jihad in Syria.
Source : Magharebia