Tunisia closes border ahead of presidential election as fear of ISIS attack mounts

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Supporters of Tunisian presidential candidate Beji Caid el Sebsi are seen during a meeting as part of the electoral campaign in Kasserine, Tunisia, on November 19, 2014. Anadolu Agency/Yassine Gaidi

By: Noureddine Baltayeb

Published Friday, November 21, 2014

In addition to securing the Tunisian presidential election three days before its scheduled date, Tunisian security agencies are trying to follow-up on the serious security development with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declaring the establishment of “Wilayat Tripoli” in Libya. This development prompted the Tunisian government to close its borders with Libya fearing that ISIS might target the elections after warning the country that it is not going to be isolated from what is happening in the region.

Tunisia – In an expected move, ISIS declared the establishment of an Islamic emirate called Wilayat Tripoli (the Libyan capital) and its online media site published pictures of its fighters in a military parade carrying the group’s flag and four-wheel drive vehicles carrying the group’s insignia. The new “Wilayat Tripoli” includes the cities of Sirte, Subrata, Khums, Zliten, Misrata, al-Zawiya in addition to Jabal al-Gharbi cities such as Byda and some areas in western Libya. This development came after the group seized complete control of the city of Derna which had been declared a few weeks ago as one of ISIS’ cities.

This major development put Tunisian security and military agencies on high alert. The Libyan capital is no more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from the Tunisian border city of Ben Gardane in the Medenine governorate, so one can understand Tunisia’s quick response. The crisis cell, headed by Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, decided to close the border crossing of Ras Jdir in Ben Gardane and the border crossing of Zahabiya in the Tataouine governorate from yesterday until Sunday, the date of the presidential election. The border will be reopened on Monday.

This is the first time that the Tunisian-Libyan border will be closed for this long since the toppling of the previous regime. It confirms the gravity of the threats the Tunisian government believes it faces, based on Tunisian, Algerian and French intelligence information about the presence of a real plan threatening Tunisia’s stability. Information indicates that ISIS proclaimed through a statement by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the need to target Tunisia and secular forces and march toward south Tunisia on election day. The Tunisian authorities dealt with this information very seriously on the security and military levels.

After Baghdadi’s announcement, the Tunisian Interior Ministry published in most Tunisian newspapers and satellite TV stations pictures of more than 30 terrorists from Algeria, Libya, Mali and Nigeria wanted for their involvement in terrorist activities. The ministry also issued an official statement asking citizens to come forward with any information on these terrorists because they pose a threat to national security. The statement of the Interior Ministry came after successful preemptive operations were carried out by national security forces and the army thwarting a large number of terrorist operations aimed at public facilities in addition to intellectuals, political figures and ministers.

A senior security official told Al-Akhbar that security forces have regained their state of readiness after a period of decline in 2011 and 2012. That is why they, along with the army, succeeded in dismantling terrorist sleeper cells. The source expects security forces to completely eliminate terrorist cells concentrated in the mountain range along the Tunisian-Algerian border between the governorates of Kef, Kasserine, Jendouba, Gafsa and the desert border area between the governorates of Tozeur and Kebili that were used by terrorist groups as routes to smuggle weapons.

In a related matter, security forces fought a new terrorist cell the day before yesterday in the Sidi Bouzid governorate that was trying to target presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi, killing one of its members and arresting the rest.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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