TUNIS: Al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch claimed responsibility Friday for an attack last month on the home of Tunisia’s top security official that killed four police guards.
In a statement published online, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said the attack on Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou’s home in the southern city of Kasserine was in revenge for the imprisonment of young men calling for Islamic law, and attacks against Al-Qaeda members in nearby mountains.
The minister wasn’t home, though his family was, when some 15 attackers arrived in a pickup truck and opened fire on his residence May 28.
It is the first time Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for an operation inside Tunisia, previously describing it as a territory for recruitment, rather than holy war.
In the past year, Tunisia has outlawed the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Shariah extremist movement and repeatedly tried to dislodge militants hiding out in remote mountain areas.
Ansar al-Shariah is believed to be involved in the attack by a 2,000-strong mob on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012 that resulted in the death of four of the attackers. Its leader, Seifallah Ben Hassine, has fled to the eastern Libyan city of Dernah, according to the government.
The Al-Qaeda statement warned that the minister would not escape a second attack.
The claim came as the government announced the death of two suspected militants in clashes with Tunisian forces over the past few days in the northwestern town of Jendouba, also near the Algerian border.
Also Friday, political sources told Reuters that Tunisia is set to hold separate parliamentary and presidential elections at the end of the year after political parties resolved a dispute over the election date.
Tunisia’s national assembly approved a new electoral law in May to help the country move to full democracy after the 2011 uprising that inspired the “Arab Spring.”
Boussairi Bou Abdeli, a politician who participated in a dialogue between the parties, said they had “agreed to hold parliamentary before presidential [elections] this year.” A source confirmed the agreement.
Whether the presidential and parliamentary elections should be held separately or together was the last point of disagreement between the Islamists and secularists.
The agreement allows electoral authorities to set a date for the first election since the North African state adopted a new constitution that has been praised as a model of democratic transition in the Arab world.
The elections will probably be held at the end of October or in November, the election agency chief Chafik Sarsar told Reuters in an interview last month.
With its new constitution and a caretaker administration governing until elections later this year, Tunisia’s relatively smooth progress contrasts with the turmoil in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, which also ousted long-standing leaders three years ago.
Islamist party Ennahda won the first free election after former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s fall and formed the first government, but the assassination of two secular opposition leaders triggered a political crisis.