Tunisia’s prime minister Youssef Chahed on Thursday said all jihadists returning from foreign battlefields would be immediately arrested and judged according to the country’s counter-terrorism law.
“The Tunisian state has not signed any deal on the return of terrorists and the government’s position on the matter is clear: it does not support the return from areas of tension,” Chahed told state television El Wataniya.
“Those who do return will be immediately arrested on their arrival to Tunisian territory and will be judged. And the counter-terrorism law will be applied against them,” said the premier, who met President Beji Caid Essebsi on Thursday afternoon.
Concern about the return of jihadists has risen since Tunisian Anis Amri, 24, was identified as the suspected attacker who mowed down 11 people with a truck at a Berlin Christmas market last week and also killed the driver.
Chahed said Tunisia “has lists of all (Tunisian) terrorists who are in areas of tension and who have been part of terrorist organisations. We know each and every one of them and have all the data on them.”
His comments came after a ministerial meeting to decide on an action plan to tackle the issue did not take place on Thursday as planned.
Last week, Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub told parliament that 800 jihadists had already returned from the front lines, stressing however that the authorities have them on their radar.
Despite such assurances, Tunisians rallied outside parliament at the weekend to protest against allowing jihadists back into the country.
Politicians and their parties have expressed similar concerns, criticising the authorities’ inaction.
The national union of internal security forces has called on the government to strip Tunisian jihadists of their nationality.
Essebsi said in early December that his country was “taking all the necessary measures” to ensure that jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq are “neutralised”.
But, citing the constitution, he said the authorities could not prevent a Tunisian from returning to their country.
Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia has faced repeated jihadist attacks, killing more than 100 soldiers and policemen, as well as about 20 civilians and 59 foreign tourists, according to official figures.