Tunisia arrests al Qaeda suspects with bombs


Tunisian security forces arrested two people suspected of being members of al Qaeda near the Libyan border who were carrying an explosives belt, several bombs and led authorities to a weapons stash in the mountains.

The men, thought to be members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), were arrested near Ramada in the south of the country, a security source told Reuters.

Arab and Western officials have warned al Qaeda could be exploiting the Libyan conflict to acquire weapons and smuggle them into other countries.

The men were carrying Afghan identity papers and were of Libyan and Algerian origin, the source told Reuters, adding that they were also connected to two men arrested in Tunisia last week.

One of the men threw an explosive device at officers trying to arrest them but it failed to detonate, the source said.

The Interior Ministry confirmed two men had been arrested but did not give details of who they might be working for.

Interrogations of the men led to the discovery of a weapons depot hidden in mountains in the south of Tunisia, the ministry said in a statement. The stash included Kalashikov rifles, a crude bomb and munitions, it said.

The North African group is one of al Qaeda’s biggest regional branches and has also kidnapped several Westerners in recent years, including two Austrian tourists who were released in 2008 after being captured in Mali and held for eight months.

A senior security official in Algeria told Reuters last month there were signs al Qaeda was working to acquire arms to smuggle them to a stronghold in northern Mali.

Tunisian authorities have called on the public to report any suspect activity and warned them not to shelter any foreigners who might threaten national security.

The North African country, which is an important destination for Libyan migrants fleeing the conflict, has tightened security along its border with Libya since the start of the unrest, searching cars and questioning people trying to cross.