Tunisia arrests cell 'plotting attacks' on US officers

Detainees, two of whom serve in Tunisian Air Force, allegedly planned to assassinate US officers who visit the country periodically.

Tunisian authorities have reportedly arrested nine nationals for allegedly planning attacks on visiting military officers from the United States. The arrests were made under the Tunisian anti-terrorism law, lawyers said. The detainees, two of whom are officers in the Tunisian Air Force, planned to assassinate American military officers who visit the country periodically for military training and joint exercises with the Tunisian army, the German Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) reported. Dr. Jack Kalpakian, a political expert at Morocco's Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, said he was not surprised to hear news of the terror sweep. "Tunisia's government has followed a very secularist policy and has not been very sympathetic towards any kind of political religious expression," he told The Media Line. "While in other countries in North Africa expressions of Islamism are tolerated to some extent, Tunisia represses these voices," he said. Lawyer Samir Bin 'Amar told DPA that a court charged the nine detainees with incitement to carry out terror attacks, attempting to acquire weapons and explosives for a terror organization and using Tunisian soil to recruit people for a terror organization. The two officers, both aged 32, are stationed at an air force and naval base in Benzart, 60 kilometers north of the capital, Tunis. They were charged with trying to embezzle weapons and explosives from the base to use in an attack against the American officers. The involvement of army officers in the alleged plot is rare but not surprising, Kalpakian said. "Ultimately, it's a Muslim country, and the army will always reflect all aspects of society because it's very large. Armies are a sample of the whole population, so unless they're being restrictive to hiring people only from a specific background, they'll have this problem," he said. Bin 'Amar said there was no evidence to back up the case and that the defendants were pleading not guilty to the charges against them. "They say the police procured confessions from them under duress," he told DPA. A court will be issuing a verdict within the next few days. The US views Tunisia as a partner in its fight against terrorism. Terror attacks in North Africa have been a common occurrence over the past few years with the emergence of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a reincarnation of a terror group that is affiliated, at least in its ideology, to the international Al-Qaida network. However, few such attacks, if at all, took place in Tunisia. Tunisia and the US conduct joint military drills on a routine basis and the US army provides its Tunisian counterpart with logistic and military assistance. The US Embassy in Tunis was not available to comment on the reports until time of publication.