Gunmen attacked several military checkpoints near the Algerian border on Thursday killing at least 14 Tunisian soldiers. The Tunisian army had been carrying out an operation to wipe out Islamist radicals in the area.
Armed with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, the militants ambushed a government checkpoint in the Mount Chaambi area on Wednesday night, killing the Tunisian soldiers while they were breaking the Ramadan fast. The Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade claimed responsibility for the assault on a social media site, but the claim could not be verified. Tunisia’s government stated that the brigade does operate in the Mount Chaambi region and is linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist organization’s North African franchise.
Tunisian soldiers stand guard on June 11, 2013 in the Mount Chaambi region (Photo: AFP)
Since April, Tunis has deployed thousands of troops near Mount Chaambi, hoping to prevent terrorists groups from Mali and Algeria from infiltrating the small country. According to Reuters, militants from Okba Ibn Nafaa have been hiding out in that area since a French military operation forced fighters out of Mali 18 months ago. Since Chaambi is a mountainous region and filled with rough terrain, the area provides small groups plenty of cover and easy transit between Algeria and Tunisia.
Another militant organization, Ansar al-Sharia, has been suspected by some of planning the assault. The group is responsible for conducting attacks against Tunisian security forces and the the American Embassy in Tunis as well as assassinating political figures.
In spite of the terrorist attacks, the Tunisian government has constructed a relatively vibrant and stable political system since the 2011 revolution. The government has taken several steps to embrace democratic principles, adopting a new constitution and allowing a “caretaker government” to take over until elections. These new steps were carried out to ease tension between the leading Islamist party and secular groups after the 2011 election.