The most wanted man in the Maghreb is operating freely in Libya and planning new terrorist attacks against Tunisia and Algeria, top experts warn.
Notorious terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, alias Laaouar, intends to unify fighters returning from the Syria front and use them to strike the Maghreb, retired Tunisian Brigadier General Mokhtar Ben Nasr recently revealed.
"Since declaring his allegiance to al-Qaeda, Mokhtar Belmokhtar has stayed in Libya where he has been recruiting Syria returnees," Ben Nasr told Algeria's Echourouk daily on June 27th.
"He is trying to impose his influence on other jihadist groups in the Arab Maghreb after Tunisia's Abou Iyadh disappeared from the scene because he was banned from making media statements by a Libyan militia," the Tunisian officer said.
Algeria's El Khabar daily cited unnamed security sources as saying that Belmokhtar met with Uqba Ibn Nafi Brigade chief Khaled Chaieb (aka Abu Sakhr) and told him to free Ansar al-Sharia fighters from Mornaguia prison near Tunis.
The newspaper, which did not specify the date or place of the meeting, said the instructions also included targeting a number of oil, tourist and security facilities and some political and security officials.
"The terrorist elements are incapable of confronting the internal security and national army forces," Tunisian Defence Minister Ghazi Jeribi said on Thursday (July 3rd) during the funeral of four national army soldiers killed on Wednesday when their vehicle hit a landmine planted by terrorists. "Their strategy is to plant landmines and not to confront the army forces."
He added: "Jebel Chaambi is under control, and a decision was made to storm the mountains between Jendouba and El Kef provinces."
Olfa Ayari, president of the Prisons and Correctional Institution Syndicate, dismissed Belmokhtar's call to his followers to attack Mornaguia prison.
"Let him come with all of his al-Qaeda elements and let them try," she told Magharebia. "They will be disappointed because this is Africa's most secured prison with its strong fortifications and highly-trained guards."
According to Ayari, Mornaguia prison is home to more than 500 terrorists.
"We're all accustomed to Belmokhtar's threats, which are basically propaganda after his status dropped among terrorist groups," security expert Sami Riahi said.
Tunisia's Al Maghreb daily also reported that Laaouar aimed to carry out terrorist operations in Tunisia, including bombings and assassinations of some officials.
Observers are not surprised by Belmokhtar's plan to target prisons, like what happened in Niger last year.
"Terrorist organisations are stepping up their efforts to free their jailed elements because this is the best way to maintain their loyalty," analyst Abdelhamid al-Ansari said.