Yesterday, Tunisia announced that its National Guard killed two terrorists in Jabal Orbata, which is in Gafsa governorate (see map below). As part of the preventative operation, the National Guard seized two Kalashnikov-type assault rifles, two explosive belts, and a pair of night vision goggles. Today, the government also announced the identities of those they killed.
One is the Algerian Muhammad Amin Muhkukah (Abu Ayman al-Wahrani). He has been on Tunisia’s most-wanted list since July 13, 2014. Interestingly, while they reposted his most wanted poster on November 19, 2014, most recently, they reposted it for a second time on May 28, 2019, suggesting Tunisia may have been worried about his activities again. The other individual killed was the Tunisian Lakhdhar Bin Mas’ud Nasiri (Abu Yahya), though he was not on Tunisia’s most-wanted list or frozen assets sanctions list, which could suggest he was a lower-level fighter.
What is noteworthy about the location is that Jabal Orbata is increasingly becoming a more hot zone as a safe haven and for mobilization amongst Islamic State militants. When IS first started recruiting and developing local insurgent networks in 2014-2015, it was mainly based in Jabal Maghilah and Jabal Sallum. However, since the beginning of 2019, there’s been increasing insurgent activity in Jabal Orbata. Prior to this year, as far as I know, there were no militant incidents in this locale. Yet, since late February 2019, there have been five attacks at Jabal Orbata. Three were IED landmine explosion attacks, one was a beheading of a local resident allegedly spying on IS members there, and one was an attack against the broadcasting station, which is at the top of the mountain. The only one of these attacks that IS claimed was the beheading on March 1, 2019.
How this most recent Tunisian military operation against IS assets in Jabal Orbata affects the trajectory of the network remains to be seen, but if Muhkukah had been the top guy in this network it could severely hurt the group’s efforts in this region going forward, especially since Tunisia believed as of January 2019 that there were only 30 IS militants remaining in the mountainous regions. Time will tell.