About 400 Tunisian extremist militant have returned from fighting in the Syrian war, the Interior Minister, Lutfi Jeddou, revealed, saying the development has sparked fears that the battle-hardened militants could fuel violence back home.
Since the 2011 revolution, Tunisia has been rocked by sporadic violence linked to extremists.
In this context, many Tunisians joined the ranks of armed groups in Syria, raising fears in the North African country of further violence following their return.
“We have managed to prevent nearly 8,000 people from going to Syria,” Jeddou said after a security and counter-terrorism meeting.
He further added: “We don’t have exact figures of those who have returned, but they are estimated to number around 400.”
The minister admitted that the authorities had failed to arrest many of the extremists who have returned home due to a ‘legal loophole’. He did not elaborate.
“But we are following them very closely. We have built up a data base… They have acquired experience and training and must be monitored,” he said.
Last year, the public prosecutor opened an inquiry into networks recruiting and facilitating the departure to Syria of young Tunisians fighters.
At that time, the interior ministry said it had stepped up airport checks to try to prevent would-be combatants from heading there.
Much of the deadly violence witnessed in Tunisia since the January 2011 uprising has been blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, a hardline movement accused of having links to al-Qaeda.
Moreover, the Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, stated, during his recent visit to Tunisia, that his country was ‘ready to cooperate with Tunisia to deal with Tunisian fighters in Syria who come into this country via Turkey’.