Tunisian security forces storm terror-cell plotting deadly Ramadan attack

Two members of a shady Islamist group with links to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group were killed in a Sunday raid in Sidi Bouzeid, 200 km south-west of Tunis.

Tunisian security officials killed two members of an Islamist group, including a senior commander, in a Sunday raid in the city of Sidi Bouzid, 200km southwest of Tunis, officials said on Sunday.

Three others, suspected members of the Islamist group Obka Ibn Nafaa, were arrested in the raid on a house in the Shalabi district of the city.

The Obka Ibn Nafaa group operates out of the Chaambi mountain range on Tunisia’s border with Algeria, and has mostly claimed allegiance with al-Qaeda’s North African branch.

However, according to Tunisian security sources, a schism within the group, has seen some members split, pledging allegiance to IS, and relocating to the Sammama mountain.

In the past year the group – which derives its name from a seventh century Arab general who lead the early Muslim conquests of North Africa – has launched a number of attacks on Tunisian security forces, including an August 2016 ambush of a security forces convoy in Sammana that left three soldiers dead.

The senior commander of the Sidi Bouzeid cell, who some reports said was an Algerian national, self-detonated a suicide belt during Sunday’s raid, according to official reports.

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef al-Shahed said afterwards that the group were plotting to carry out a terror attack during Ramadan.

National Guards spokesman Col. Major Khalifa Chibani told The New Arab that the raid took place following weeks of surveillance monitoring the Obka Ibn Nafaa cell’s movements.

Tunisia’s security forces have launched a sustained crackdown on militant cells suspected of links to the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda after suffering four major attacks in the last two years, two of which targeted foreign tourists, including a devastating June 2015 attack in the seaside resort town of Sousse in which at least 38 people were killed.

More than 3,000 Tunisians have left the country in the past few years — more than from any other Arab state — to join IS and other militant groups in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, raising concern of attacks at home as fighters return.