The Ministry of Interior today alleged that Ansar al-Sharia has links with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and was involved in the killings of two opposition politicians this year.
At a Wednesday press conference, ministry officials provided information about their investigation of Ansar al-Sharia, a controversial conservative religious organization recently deemed a terrorist group by the Tunisian government.
We have proof that Ansar al-Sharia has ties with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and so does the Okba Ibn Nefaa militant group, said Minister of Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou. [display_posts type=”related” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
Following Prime Minister Laarayedh's announcement, anyone funding, helping, or belonging to Ansar al-Sharia will be criminalized, he continued.
The government has been at odds with Ansar al-Sharia and officially banned the organization in May of this year.
After the assassination of National Constituent Assembly (NCA) member Mohamed Brahmi on July 25, the government implicated members of the organization in both his murder and the February killing of opposition politician Chokri Belaid.
At Wednesday's press conference, the government provided more evidence regarding these allegations.
Ministry of Interior spokesperson Mohamed Ali Aroui claimed that ministry investigations found strong ties between the cases of the Brahmi and Belaid assassinations, recent clashes with armed fighters on Chaambi Mountain in western Tunisia, and arms smuggling in the country.
According to head of public security Mustapha Taieb Ben Amor, the ministry believes the main suspects in the Belaid assassination, Kamel Gadhgadhi and Aboubaker el-Hakim met with Ansar al-Sharia founder Abu Iyadh at Chaambi Mountain several times.
Abu Iyadh is suspected of playing a role in the September 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tunisia and is currently on the run from authorities.
Additionally, Aroui said the ministry and security forces intervened to stop recent assassination plots around the country and several attempts of arm smuggling in the past few days. [display_posts type=”same_author” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
Several suspects in arm smuggling and terrorist plots belong to the military wing of Ansar al-Sharia, Ben Amor alleged.
We managed to arrest Mohamed Habib Amri and Ahmed Mbarki in Chaambi for providing aid to terrorists on the mountain, Ben Jeddou stated, claiming the ministry found proof that Ansar al-Sharia has been planning future attacks and assassinations.
Ben Jeddou praised the efforts of Tunisian security forces in the investigation, claiming there are now more people related to the group [Ansar al-Sharia] in jail than on the western mountains of Tunisia.
At a time of tense political polarization, the Ben Jeddou reiterated the prime minister's message that Ansar al-Sharia was not being targeted for its beliefs.
Not all Salafists belong to Ansar al-Sharia, Ben Jeddou said We need to be careful about how we treat them. They are children of this country.