Tunisian man chased by police ‘blows himself up’

Tunisian special forces take up position in Ben Guerdane. Two Daesh suspects died following an action near the town. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018

Tunisian man chased by police ‘blows himself up’

TINIS: A Tunisian man “blew himself up” as he was being chased Monday by police in a border region near Libya and his companion was shot dead, the interior ministry said.
Spokesman Khalifa Chibani told AFP the National Guard had received information concerning “two male suspects” in the southern Ben Guerdane region.
They tracked them down in the Magroun area, a desert zone near a nature reserve, and tried to arrest them but “one of them blew himself up,” he said.
Chibani said both suspects wore explosive vests, and had currency from chaos-wracked Libya, grenades and ammunition. “It is probable that they were planning to go to Libya,” he told AFP.
He said they could be two jihadists sought by authorities over connections to the Jund Al-Khilafa group, Arabic for “Soldiers of the Caliphate,” which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.
One of the suspects, he said, was armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and had opened fire on the police.
After an exchange of fire, security forces “shot dead the second terrorist,” the interior ministry said, adding that the National Guard and the army were searching the area.
He said an investigation had been opened and would determine if the first suspect who blew himself up had activated his explosives vest or if it blew up in the exchange of fire with the security forces.
Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia has faced a jihadist insurgency responsible for the deaths of dozens of soldiers, police, civilians and foreign tourists.
Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, when a suicide bombing in Tunis claimed by the IS killed 12 presidential guards.
Monday’s incident comes after a series of deadly operations in 2015 and two years after an IS offensive on the town of Ben Guerdane.
On March 7, 2016, jihadists launched brazen attacks on the town that killed 13 members of the security forces and seven civilians and also left 55 fighters dead.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed this month marked the anniversary of the Ben Guerdane attacks and said he wanted to “consecrate March 7 as a national day of victory against terrorism” and Ben Guerdane as “the town of victory against terrorism.”
Thousands of Tunisians have joined jihadist groups fighting in Iraq, Syria and neighboring Libya.

US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but will not give aid

Updated 18 December 2018

US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but will not give aid

  • James Jeffrey said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war
  • Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay

WASHINGTON: The US said Monday it was no longer seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad but renewed warnings it would not fund reconstruction unless the regime is “fundamentally different.”

James Jeffrey, the US special representative in Syria, said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war, estimating that some 100,000 armed opposition fighters remained in Syria.

“We want to see a regime that is fundamentally different. It’s not regime change —  we’re not trying to get rid of Assad,” Jeffrey said at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

Estimating that Syria would need $300-400 billion to rebuild, Jeffrey warned that Western powers and international financial institutions would not commit funds without a change of course.

“There is a strong readiness on the part of Western nations not to ante up money for that disaster unless we have some kind of idea that the government is ready to compromise and thus not create yet another horror in the years ahead,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama had called for Assad to go, although he doubted the wisdom of a robust US intervention in the complex Syrian war. and kept a narrow military goal of defeating the Daesh extremist group.

President Donald Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in October that the US would not provide “one single dollar” for Syria’s reconstruction if Iran stays.

Jeffrey also called for the ouster of Iranian forces, whose presence is strongly opposed by neighboring Israel, although he said the US accepted that Tehran would maintain some diplomatic role in the country.

Jeffrey also said that the US wanted a Syria that does not wage chemical weapons attacks or torture its own citizens.

He acknowledged, however, that the US may not find an ally anytime soon in Syria, saying: “It doesn’t have to be a regime that we Americans would embrace as, say, qualifying to join the European Union if the European Union would take Middle Eastern countries.”