Tunisia detains key militant after deadly attack

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Tunis (dpa) – Tunisian authorities Thursday detained a former member of the now outlawed Ansar al-Sharia hardline group as part of a crackdown on suspected jihadists after 12 presidential guards were killed in an attack two days ago, local media reported.

Seifeddine Rais, an ex-spokesman for Ansar Al-Sharia, was arrested more than a month after his release from prison, state-run Radio Nationale reported.

He was taken at his house in the northern province of Kairouan and is being investigated, the broadcaster said without giving details.

Rais was previously detained several times for inciting violence and had been under suspicion of sending young Tunisians to fight in Syria. The last time was in July 2014 after he appeared in an online video praising the Islamic State terrorist group.

Since Ansar al-Sharia was banned in mid-2013, most of its members are believed to have joined another local group that pledged allegiance to Islamic State earlier this year.

Islamic State, which is active in neighbouring Libya, Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s suicide bombing on a bus carrying presidential guards in the heart of the capital Tunis.

The attack prompted President Beji Caid Essibsi to reimpose a state of emergency in the country, which is struggling against a surge in Islamist militancy.

Tuesday’s bombing was the third major attack this year by suspected jihadist militants to hit Tunisia – widely seen as the sole democratic success story of the 2010-11 Arab uprisings.

Attacks targeting foreign tourists at the capital’s Bardo museum in March and the beach resort of Sousse in June killed 60 people.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for those two attacks too.

A state of emergency imposed after the Sousse attack expired in October.

Tunisia is estimated to be the largest single source of foreign jihadist fighters in the Syrian civil war. Authorities estimate the number of Tunisians fighting there at about 3,000.

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