Tunisian security authorities warned of the return of thousands of militants fighting for terrorist groups in Iraq and neighboring Syria to the small Mediterranean country, demanding “exceptional measures” to combat the phenomenon.
“The return of terrorists from hotbeds of unrest to Tunisia is worrying, and could lead to the Somalization of the country,” said a Sunday statement from the internal security forces’ national union, the Russophile reported; FNA reported.
It added that battle-hardened fighters “have received military training and have learnt to use all sorts of sophisticated weapons.”
The warning came a day after Tunisian authorities said they had arrested three people, including the nephew of Anis Amri, the main suspect in the December 19 Berlin Christmas market truck attack. The 24-year-old Tunisian was killed in a shootout with police in a suburb of the northern Italian city of Milan on Friday.
The 12 victims of last Monday’s attack in the German capital city of Berlin included seven Germans, an Italian, a Czech, a Ukrainian, an Israeli as well as a Pole.
Amri’s nephew confessed to Tunisian authorities that he had been in contact with his uncle via Telegram messaging application. Amri had asked him to join ISIL terror group, and had even sent his nephew some money by post to enable him to travel to Germany.
Earlier this month, President Beji Caid Essebsi said Tunisia would refuse to pardon Tunisians who have fought for terrorist groups.
“Many of them want to return, and we can’t prevent a Tunisian from returning to his country but we will be vigilant,” he said.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the Tunisian parliament building on Saturday to express their strong opposition to letting terrorists back in the country.
As many as 7,000 Tunisians have reportedly left the North African country since 2011 to fight alongside extremist groups in Iraq and Syria, particularly with ISIL.
There are more Tunisians among the ranks of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria than any other nationality.
Tunisian militants have also been behind a series of deadly attacks in their own country, namely the attack on foreign tourists at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis on March 18, 2015.
Twenty-one people were killed at the scene, while an additional victim died ten days later. Around fifty others were injured.
ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack. However, the Tunisian government blamed the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, a local splinter group of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, for the assault.
On June 26, 2015, a a gunman, identified as Seifeddine Rezgui, attacked a hotel at Port ElKantaoui, located about 10 kilometers north of the city of Sousse, killing 38 people. Thirty of the victims were British.