Tunisia Arrests Brothers Suspected of Helping Islamic State Bomber, Finds Weapons Hoard

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since a suicide bomber killed 12 people on board a bus that was carrying presidential guards in Tunis last Tuesday. The Islamic State immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
November 30, 2015, 4:30pm
Photo via EPA

Security forces have arrested two suspected Islamist militants that they say were involved in a suicide bombing in the Tunisian capital of Tunis last week. They were apprehended in a late-night raid in the southern city of Medicine that also uncovered a large cache of weapons and explosives.

Tunisia's Interior Ministry announced that the two men were found with a stash of Kalashnikov rifles, grenades, a suicide bomb belt, and detonators and explosive materials for making car bombs. A Tunisian security source said that the two men arrested on Sunday night were brothers who aided the suicide bomber in his missions. Few other details have yet been released, including the identities of the two men.

On Friday, Tunisian police announced that Houssem Abdelli, a street-vendor from a suburb of Tunis, was the principle suspect in that deadly bombing. Adele had been arrested this past August on suspicion of jihadist ties but was released for lack of evidence.

Related: Tunisian Presidential Guard Members Killed As Explosion Rips Through Bus

The potential missed opportunity to stop a suicide bomber — despite authorities finding jihadist literature in his house and neighbors noticing changes in his behavior over the last few years -— has been widely criticized in Tunisia.

"This terrorist was arrested by the police and then freed by the justice system for lack of evidence," Interior Ministry security chief Rafik Chelli admitted to local radio last week.

The country has been under a state of emergency since Abdelli killed 12 people on board a bus that was carrying presidential guards in Tunis last Tuesday. The Islamic State (IS) terror insurgency claimed responsibility for the bombing, which was the third major militant attack in Tunisia this year following assaults on a beach resort at Sousse and the Bardo museum in the capital, both of which targeted foreign visitors. Apart from being described as brothers of the suicide bomber, the exact link between the suspects arrested on Sunday and IS has not yet been made clear.

Related: Tunisia Is Building a Wall Along Libyan Border to Keep Out Terrorists

In the days following last week's attack — the first suicide bombing in the capital — the Interior Ministry launched 526 raids and arrested 30 people suspected of belonging to terrorist organizations. But today's arrest is the first that authorities have directly tied to the deadly suicide bombing.

Last Tuesday's bombing forced the government to implement a curfew, declare a state of emergency, and promise harsh measures to protect against jihadists returning from war zones. Tunisia has also closed its borders with neighboring Libya, where IS has established a stronghold.  Tunisian officials estimate that more than 3,000 Tunisians are now fighting for IS or other militant groups in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.