TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian authorities have arrested 32 extremists and thwarted an ambitious plot to attack civilian and military sites around the country, including the Interior Ministry.
The spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Mohamed Ali Aroui, said some of those arrested over several days had traveled to battlefronts abroad, notably Syria.
The announcement late Saturday came just as Tunisia's new government is taking power after a long transition to democracy prompted by the Arab Spring uprisings. A major task for the new leadership will be fighting extremism that has flourished since protesters overthrew authoritarian rule.
Aroui said the hunt for other suspects was still underway with plans to comb Kasserine, near Mount Chaambi, near the Algerian border where Muslim radicals are holed up resisting Tunisian soldiers trying to rout them out. The towns of Kef and Jendouba, in the northwest, also are being searched.
The spokesman, speaking Saturday night on TV and radio, said those arrested belonged to the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, thought to be linked to al-Qaida's North African affiliate, which has in the past claimed responsibility for deadly attacks at Mount Chaambi on Tunisian soldiers.
Among targets of the dismantled network were the Interior Ministry, in the heart of the Tunisian capital, and two National Guard posts, Aroui said Saturday night on Tunisian TV and radio. Also targeted were "strategic" sites in two southern towns, he said.
Tunisian authorities are particularly monitoring those returning from Syria.
Some 3,000 Tunisians are estimated to have left for jihad, mainly with the Islamic State group, in Syria and Iraq. Former Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said recently that several hundred had returned home and were under surveillance.