Tunisian security forces found an anti-aircraft artillery at an underground arms storage facility in Ben Gardane city, the first time since militant attacks began in the country in 1980.
The city is witnessing a manhunt for Islamic State group operatives since last Monday’s attacks in Tunisia.
Local Tunisian news, including official radio channels, reported early Sunday news of finding the arms store and the anti-aircraft missile.
Media reported that the 14.5 mm missile has a reach of 18 kilometres and can take down airplanes and helicopters.
The missile is transportable via an SUV.
Informed sources told Ahram Online that in the history of militant activity in Tunisia the discovery of such destructive weaponry is unprecedented, and that the use of RPGs in the recent Ben Gardane attacks is a new threshold in terrorist capabilities.
The Gafsa operation in January 1980 led to tension in Libyan-Tunisian relations under leaders Gaddafi and Burqiba when an armed group allegedly affiliated to Tripoli tried to seize the city in the Tunisian south, known for phosphate mining.
Sources suggest that the anti-aircraft missile might have reached Islamic State group militants from the armory of weapons of the Libyan army during the time of Gaddafi's rule.
In response to a question posed by Ahram Online in a phone call to the Tunisian defence ministry, spokesperson Belhassan El-Waslaty declined to comment on this qualitative development in the armament of Islamist militants, saying, “No joint statement has been issued yet by the ministries of interior and defence about the matter.”
El-Waslaty said the situation in Ben Gardane is returning to stability as security and military operations reveal more militant elements and hidden arms stores. He added that there is military and security readiness to intervene whenever there is an emergency, and to face any possible threats.
El-Waslaty described the cooperation of residents of Ben Gardane with security and military operations as excellent, adding that the manhunt operation is taking guidance and information from residents in the area.
On another note, security and military forces sent reinforcements to besiege the mountainous areas in the provinces of Al-Qasrein, Sidi Bou Zeid, and Gafsa in the western centre of the country, in anticipation that militants who are fortified there may try to conduct attacks on cities to alleviate conditions for their associates in Ben Gardane.