Russia to step up counter-terrorism efforts in Maghreb region: Reports

Karem Yehia, Tunis , Tuesday 15 Mar 2016

The reports come in the wake of a 7 March massacre carried out by Islamist militants in Tunisia’s Ben Gardane

Ben Guerdane
Tunisian security forces gather at the scene of an assault on a house outside the town of Ben Guerdane near the border with Libya on March 3, 2016 (AFP)

Tunisian media reported on Monday that Russia is set to increase its role in combating terrorism, with a focus on the Islamic State group in the Maghreb after deadly attacks struck the Tunisian city of Ben Gardane on 7 March.

Dozens of Islamist fighters stormed the Tunisian town of Ben Gardane near the Libyan border, attacking army and police posts in a raid that killed at least 50 people, including civilians.

Since its 2011 revolt to oust ruler Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has struggled with Islamist militancy at home and across the border, with fighters trained in militant camps in Libya carrying out two attacks in Tunisia last year.

Tunisian daily newspaper Al-Sabah reported that Russia recently supplied Algeria with images captured by satellites along the borders with Tunisia and Libya, as well as Mali and Niger.

The newspaper quoted Algerian sources claiming that these images have helped the Algerian army foil several infiltration attempts by militant fighters and weapons smugglers.

Al-Sabah pointed out that Algeria has asked Moscow to provide it with information about the movement of terrorists in the region, and that Algerian authorities presented the images captured by the Russian satellites to the Tunisian authorities.

Monday's edition of Algeria’s widely circulated Al-Shrouk newspaper, which is published in Tunis, headlined the announcement of a state of alert along Algeria’s borders with four Tunisian provinces. 

The newspaper also reported that, "Moscow is going to open an unprecedented page in military and security cooperation with Tunisia," including supplying it with "Russian weapons, such as helicopters, to combat terrorism and protect its borders."

In terms of security developments on the ground, a Tunisian security source announced on Monday that a terrorist cell of eight Islamic State militants was arrested in Jendouba in the northwest of Tunisia and on the Algerian border.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Khamis Al-Jheinawi is now on an official visit to Moscow to prepare for the expected visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Tunisia in May.

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