TUNIS, Tunisia – Islamic extremists involved in a deadly fire fight with police this month had blueprints of foreign embassies and documents naming foreign envoys, Tunisia's official news agency quoted the interior minister as saying Friday.
Interior Minister Rafik Haj Kacem described the extremists as "terrorists" in a closed door meeting with members of Tunisia's governing party, the TAP news agency reported.
It was the first time authorities had made available official information on the Jan. 3 confrontation with police that left 14 people dead — two of them members of the security forces.
Run with an iron fist, this country of some 10 million people, a tourist haven for Europeans, has largely been spared Islamic extremist violence. However, 21 people — mostly German tourists — were killed in a 2002 suicide attack on a synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba. Investigators linked the attack to Al Qaeda.
Fifteen people were arrested following the Jan. 3 clash in Soliman, a town 25 miles south of Tunis, the capital. An initial clash with security forces on Dec. 23 left two dead and two police officers injured. The minister said three police officers were injured but it was not immediately clear whether that was in addition to the two injured in December.
Blueprints of some foreign embassies and documents with the names of some foreign diplomats were seized following the fire fights, TAP quoted the minister as telling leading members of the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally party. He did not name the embassies or identify the diplomats whose names figured on the documents, according to TAP.
Explosives described as locally made also were seized, Kacem told the politicians.
The minister also appeared to link the group to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, the main insurgency movement in neighboring Algeria, saying they were "Salafist terrorists."
The interior minister, confirming press reports, said a portion of the group had crossed into Tunisia from Algeria, which has been battling an Islamic insurgency since 1992.
He did not provide nationalities for group members or a total number. Press reports have said that its leaders were Tunisian but that there was a Mauritanian among them.
Authorities had earlier referred to the group simply as "criminals."