In Tunisia Authorities dismantle 'terrorist cell' in growing crackdown

Amri was shot dead by police in the Italian city of Milan four days after the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.

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Tunisian special forces attend an official ceremony inside the barracks of the presidential security service in Gammarth, a suburb of Tunis, on November 24, 2016 play

Tunisian special forces attend an official ceremony inside the barracks of the presidential security service in Gammarth, a suburb of Tunis, on November 24, 2016

(AFP/File)
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Tunisian security forces have dismantled a 13-member "terrorist cell" that was funnelling young recruits to jihadist groups, authorities said Wednesday, as part of a growing crackdown on extremists.

The suspects, aged between 22 and 43, were arrested on Tuesday in Hergla, a town north of the coastal resort city of Sousse, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Members of the cell held "secret meetings in a mosque" and admitted to recruiting and sending 12 youths to fight with jihadist groups abroad, it said, linking it to the Okba Ibn Nafaa Battalion, a group connected to Al-Qaeda.

It was the seventh announcement in less than a week of arrests of alleged "terrorists" in Tunisia, which has detained more than 70 people in a widening crackdown on jihadists since December 25.

Authorities stepped up their efforts after Tunisian Anis Amri was identified as the primary suspect in last month's attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people.

Amri was shot dead by police in the Italian city of Milan four days after the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.

Since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has been battling a jihadist movement that has killed dozens of soldiers and police officers as well as civilians including 59 foreign tourists.

Some 3,000 Tunisians have joined the ranks of jihadist groups fighting in neighbouring Libya, as well as in Syria and Iraq, according to officials. The United Nations puts the figure at 5,000.

Tunisia's government said last week that it had jailed or closely monitored 800 jihadists who had returned from foreign battlefields.

Concern has been growing for the threat posed by returning jihadists, with the national union for security forces last month urging the government to take "exceptional measures" against them.

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