Tunisian police have broken up a cell recruiting fighters for Islamic State in Libya, authorities said, part of a security crackdown on jihadists crossing the border.
Tunisian security forces are on high alert after dozens of Islamist militants stormed through the border town of Ben Guerdan earlier this month attacking army and police posts and triggering street battles in which troops killed about 50 militants over three days.
Twelve soldiers and seven civilians were also killed in the worst such attack in Tunisia’s history.
“Our counter-terrorism unit forces dismantled a cell which included 12 extremists who were recruiting young people to send into Libya to join Daesh (Islamic State),” the interior ministry said in a statement late on Monday.
It said those arrested had helped jihadists who attacked Ben Guerdan this month to infiltrate to Libya to join Islamic State.
Tunisian authorities said Islamic State militants had carried out the large-scale assault on Ben Guerdan in an attempt to seize control of the town and expand their territory.
Tunisia has become increasingly concerned about violence spilling over its border as Islamic State has expanded in Libya, taking advantage of the country’s chaos to control the city of Sirte and setting up training camps there.
After Tunisia’s 2011 revolution and transition to democracy, Islamist militancy has also grown. Officials estimate that several thousand Tunisians left to fight with Islamic State and other groups in Iraq, Syria and, increasingly, in Libya.