Tunisian AQIM branch claims attack on troops in Kasserine

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Uqba bin Nafi Battalion fighters before an ambush on Tunisian soldiers last year

The Uqba bin Nafi Battalion, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) branch in Tunisia, has claimed an ambush on Tunisian soldiers in the Mount Sammama area of Kasserine Governorate on Aug. 29. The ambush follows a similar claim just a month earlier.

In a statement first released on its Twitter feed on Aug. 30 and subsequently confirmed by AQIM, the jihadist group said its “Sammama Brigade” exploded an improvised explosive device (IED) on one of the Tunisian military’s armored vehicles on patrol in the area. After the explosion, it says the fighters clashed with the other soldiers which resulted in the death of “a number” of troops and the capture of three Steyr AUG assault rifles. Local media reported that three Tunisian soldiers were killed in the ambush, while another seven were wounded. Another report indicated as many as nine troops were wounded.

As a result of the ambush, the Tunisian military has launched combing operations in the area. In these operations, the Hay el Karma area of Kasserine has been the site of deadly clashes between jihadists and Tunisian security forces, leaving two jihadists and one civilian dead. One jihadist killed was reported to be Jihad Mbarki, who was believed to be a senior deputy to Lokman Abou Sakhar, the former emir of the Uqba bin Nafi Battalion. Sakhar was killed in a Tunisian security operation in March 2015.

In July, the jihadist group claimed targeting the military with two landmines, killing one soldier in the Mount Sammama area. That claim marked the first attack since March.

In that ambush, Tunisian border guards were targeted in Bouchebka near the border with Algeria. In a statement released online by one of AQIM’s media wings, the jihadist group says its forces “wounded a number of soldiers with differing degrees of severity and burned a military vehicle.” Tunisian authorities confirmed the attack took place, but the officials said that only one border guard was wounded in the ambush. (See Threat Matrix report, Tunisian Al Qaeda battalion claims ambush near Algerian border.)

Over the past two years, the AQIM branch has claimed several other attacks on Tunisian security forces.  In Dec. 2014, the jihadist group claimed two attacks on Tunisian forces in the Mount Chaambi region, posting photos from the raids days later. Just two months later, it took credit for killing four soldiers in an assault in Kasserine. In August of last year, it killed a customs agent in Bouchebka. Uqba bin Nafi’s most deadly ambush on the Tunisian military happened in the Mount Chaambi region in July 2014, an incident that left 15 soldiers dead and 20 others wounded.

While Tunisia has been relatively stable, it continues to face a jihadist threat not just from AQIM, but also the Islamic State. The Islamic State claimed last year’s attacks on the Bardo Museum (which Tunisian authorities blamed on the Uqba bin Nafi Battalion), an ambush on a popular beach just three months later, and then a suicide bombing in the capital Tunis in November. In March, the Islamic State also claimed an assault on the Tunisian town of Ben Gardane near the border with Libya. All four attacks left a total of 93 people dead and over one hundred wounded.

Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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