Tunisia dismantles militant recruiting cell for Libya

TUNIS (REUTERS) - Tunisia said on Tuesday it had dismantled a recruiting cell sending Islamic militants to fight in Libya and arrested dozens in part of tighter security and border controls to counter the extremist threat.

Tunisia is worried that violence will spill over from Libya, where Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants have expanded their influence, exploiting turmoil as two rival governments battle for control.

Tunisians make up one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, but more recently militants have been sending militants to take part in the conflict in Tunisia's North African neighbour Libya.

"Security officers and the army arrested 10 terrorists trying to sneak into Libya to join the armed groups in Libya," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The communique said security forces also dismantled four terrorist cells who were recruiting for Libya and arrested 22 more suspects in those operations.

The ministry said the cells coordinated with Tunisian active extremists in Libya who run the training camps over the border with other foreign fighters.

Western governments are increasingly worried that ISIS fighters are extending their foothold in Libya to try to secure a base just across the Mediterranean from Europe.

Tunisia is waging a campaign against hardline Islamist groups who emerged after a 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali that put the country on track to democracy.

Among the militant groups that emerged after 2011 is Ansar al-Sharia, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by US and European officials after being blamed for storming of the US embassy in Tunis.

More than 3,000 Tunisians have also left to join militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, and the government is concerned about the prospect of returning militant fighters carrying out attacks on their home soil.

Prime Minister Habib Essid said late on Monday that Tunisia has strengthened its military presence on the Libyan border to control the situation and stop the infiltration of militants between Tunisia and Libya.

Tunisia has arrested about 400 militants since he took office last month, he said.

Last week, Tunisian troops also captured two large arms caches near the border with Libya, including rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.