By Houda Mzioudet.
Tunis, 17 February 2015:
Tunisia and Algeria have both increased security on their borders with Libya following the murder of . . .[restrict]21 Egyptians by Islamic State (IS) fighters and Monday’s Egyptian reprisal air strikes on IS targets in Derna.
The Tunisian Defence Ministry has announced that security along the border with Libya has being reinforced to prevent any incursion by radical armed groups. The army is being backed up by units from the Tunisian National Guard according to a spokesman, Lieutenant Belhassen Trabelsi. In an integrated operation covering the entire border, he said that helicopters and warplanes were also being deployed to monitor air, land and sea in order to stop incursions from Libya.
The operation was aimed at preventing attempts to smuggle weapons and the movement of terrorists in Tunisia, he explained.
As it is, the main border crossing at Ras Jedir has been closed since the weekend, not because of security concerns but by protestors from Ben Guerdane angry at the tax levied by the Libyans on Tunisians travelling to Libya.
The Wazen-Dheba crossing further south is reported to be open.
Meanwhile, the Tunisian Interior Ministry has said some 500 Tunisian returnees from Syria are being closely monitored as potential security threats.
Tunisians are said to constitute one of the largest foreign national groupings within IS ranks, both in Iraq and Syria as well as in Libya.
Algeria is also tightening up security along its 900-kilometre border with Libya. Additional army units have been deployed to prevent possible incursions, an Algerian military expert told Tunisian radio station Mosaique FM today.
In addition the Algerian authorities are reported to have increased counter-terrorist activities, arresting a number of suspected terrorists.
The two neighbours are coordinating their Libya military defences. Last week, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi was in Algiers for talks with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal on collaboration against radical Islamists and to deal with the Libyan crisis.
Since then, in the wake of the Egyptian bombings, Algeria has said that it remains firmly opposed to any foreign intervention in Libya.
For its part, Tunisia has called on Tunisians in Libya to take the utmost precautions and move around as little as possible.
Although, so far there has been no threat to the many thousands of Tunisians living in Libya, it is feared that IS could turn against them too.
Egyptians living in Libya have urged by Libya Dawn forces to leave Libya for fear of revenge attacks against them.
The Egyptian authorities are currently looking to repatriate Egyptians in western Libya through Tunisia. [/restrict]