Unreported by most Western media, it appears that Tunisian authorities have dismantled a serious terrorist threat against Western interests (mostly embassies) in the North African country. According to government reports, Tunisian security forces engaged a large "Salafist terrorist group" in different operations between the end of December and the beginning of January. Twelve militants were reported killed and fifteen arrested.
The operation is significant for various reasons:
The group, composed mostly of Tunisians, was reported to have crossed into Tunisia from the Algerian desert, where they had established links with the Algerian GSPC. Various experts on this blog have repeatedly warned about the danger posed by the GSPC (most recently Evan Kohlmann reported about the latest tape in which the group confirmed its allegiance to Bin Laden and threatened various Western governments, aside from the Bouteflika government). One of the aspects of the threat posed by the GSPC is its support to other less organized Salafi outfits in the region. The first week of January, for example, Moroccan authorities dismantled a radical Islamist network recruiting volunteers to fight in Iraq and arrested 62 people. According to Moroccan authorities the network had solid ideological, financial and operational ties to the GSPC.
As it often happens when the GSPC is involved, the Tunisian cell had strong ties to Europe. The alleged leader of the group was a 36-year-old Tunisian named Lassaad Sassi, aka Abu Hashem. As first reported by Guido Olimpio in Corriere della Sera, Abu Hashem, a veteran of Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan, was an important player in North African networks operating in Northern Italy. Indicted in April 2005 in Milan, Abu Hashem had left Italy and probably joined the GSPC in Algeria before attempting to carry out operations in his native Tunisia.
The alleged plot is another confirmation of the GSPC's importance for terrorist networks in North Africa and strong European links.