Tunisia is among the countries in which armed terrorist groups have used primitive anti-personnel and armored mines on a large scale, and their effect has been evident for more than a decade in the killing of dozens of military personnel and civilians during combing operations in planted areas in the highlands or during grazing activities, and it has also caused the deaths of herds of cattle.
Families living near mine-laden areas in Tunisia paid a heavy price in the fight against terrorism due to the interruption of their economic activities as a result of the mines and the loss of their lives, in addition to the permanent physical disabilities of those injured.
Since 2012, the Tunisian border with Algeria has been witnessing clashes between the Tunisian army and extremist groups, as the residents of the Tunisian governorate of Kasserine suffer from the consequences of those confrontations, and the mountains surrounding the region remain vulnerable to the dangers of hand-made mines. The residents often risk their lives climbing those mountains because agriculture represents their only means of subsistence, while the armed militants disembarked to secluded dwellings, instilling fear in the hearts of the inhabitants.
Adnan public incident
Perhaps the latest of the incidents that struck the residents of the Jebel Mghilla region was the incident of the young high school student Adnan Al-Amoumi and his escape from death after a mine exploded in his hand and face while he was collecting “wreath plants” in the forest located on the Algerian-Tunisian border with the aim of selling them and providing the money needed for his studies, which led to the loss of one of his eyes and an injury to his right hand.
The story of this student attracted Tunisian public opinion and political decision-makers, as the authorities ordered his transfer from the Kasserine Governorate Hospital (300 km southwest of Tunis) to the central military hospital in the capital.
A statistical report issued in 2021 by the UN-supported Landmine Monitor indicated that civilians still represent the main victims of weapons, accounting for eight out of 10 victims, with children making up no less than half of those killed or maimed.
Landmine Monitor said that at least 60 countries, including Tunisia, are contaminated with terrorists’ anti-personnel mines.
Perhaps the most prominent incident of a mine killing civilians was the incident of Khadija al-Rahimi, who lost her leg to a mine in Jebel Salloum on the outskirts of Kasserine in 2018 while collecting firewood. Fortunately, her youngest daughter, who was with her, was not injured in the explosion, but her cousin sustained eye damage in the incident.
Living with mines
Like the family of Khadija Al-Rahimi, the defenseless residents of the villages bordering the mountains were forced to live for years with the danger of armed men lurking in the highlands, which turned into a deadly trap for civilians or soldiers.
The bloodiest assault was what the siblings Mabrouk (16 years old) and Khalifa Al-Sultani (21 years old) were subjected to, when the two were slaughtered and beheaded in the same area in Jebel Mghilla, between the governorates of Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid, in two separate incidents in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
Although the security forces have liquidated most of the militants in those areas, and their activities and attacks have receded, the number of mines they left behind to disrupt tracking operations is still unknown.
According to Tunisian judicial and security circles, most of those involved in terrorist operations, planting mines and using firearms have ties to terrorist organizations and old extremist armed groups that spread two decades ago in Algeria and the African Sahel and Sahara countries.
After 2011, the influence of these organizations increased in Libya, Tunisia and the mountains of eastern Algeria, in particular Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Soldiers of the Caliphate, Uqba bin Nafaa Brigade and Ansar Assad bin Al-Furat, all the way to ISIS.
Tunisian President Kais Saied devoted paragraphs of his recent speeches to warning against terrorism and the dangers of indications of successive terrorist operations and cases of mines exploding in the forests and rugged mountains in the western governorates of the country. He also tasked new Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani, while assuming his duties, to take care of the phenomenon of terrorism and the strategy to combat it on the security, economic, social and political levels.