Tunisian bus bomber 'has been arrested before'

TUNIS • •The suicide bomber in Tunisia who blew himself up in a bus packed with presidential guards on Tuesday had been arrested by police before on suspicion of Islamist ties but was released for lack of evidence, a security official said.

Tunisia, one of the Arab world's most secular nations, is struggling to counter Islamist militancy since becoming a beacon of democratic change in the region after its 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Zine Abidine Ben Ali.

Houssem Abdelli, a street vendor from an impoverished neighbourhood of Tunis, detonated his explosives as presidential guards boarded a bus on Tuesday afternoon on one of the capital's main boulevards, killing 12 people.

The potential missed opportunity to stop a suicide bomber - despite the authorities finding Islamist literature in his house and neighbours noticing changes in his behaviour over the last few years - shows how security forces are struggling to prevent attacks.

Abdelli's bus bombing follows massacres targeting a Sousse resort hotel and the Bardo national museum in Tunis earlier this year.

Like other home-grown attackers before him and the Tunisians who left to fight for militant groups in Iraq and Syria, Abdelli appears to have followed a familiar path from a young man who showed few signs of his new violent ideology.

All three of this year's major attacks in Tunisia have been claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the militant group controlling large parts of Iraq and Syria.

All three were carried out by Tunisians who appear to have been radicalised at home or trained in militant camps in Libya.

"Everything is being planned in Libya," Tunisia's Secretary of State for National Security, Mr Rafik Chelly, yesterday told private Mosaique FM radio.

"The commanders of Tunisian terrorist groups are in Libya," he added.

The authorities said yesterday that they had arrested 40 people with suspected links to militant groups, and had issued 92 house arrest orders for people suspected of returning from Syria, Iraq and Libya.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'Tunisian bus bomber 'has been arrested before''. Print Edition | Subscribe