Army-Qaeda clashes add to heat in Tunisia’s desert

Qaeda infiltrates border triangle

TUNIS - A Tunisian military plane destroyed three cars loaded with weapons that were driving just north of the country's southern border with Algeria and Libya, the official TAP news agency said Thursday.
The plane attacked the vehicles after their occupants opened fire on it as it patrolled the southern zone of Satah al-Hassan 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the triple border overnight Wednesday, TAP reported.
The defence ministry would not immediately comment on the report.
Tunisian news sites reported that the cars were loaded with arms from Libya and were crossing Tunisia to get to Algeria.
Arms trafficking has exploded in the region since the 2011 conflict in Libya that toppled leader Moamer Gathafi.
Tunisia's large desert south has proved difficult to police.
In September last year, the Tunisian army clashed with an armed group that crossed the border from Algeria in the south, killing six of the infiltrators, according to a Western diplomat.
The commander-in-chief of the United States' Africa Command, General Carter Ham, warned during an April visit to Tunisia of the increase of illegal weapons in Africa and the threat of terrorist groups on the continent, particularly Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The incidents highlight one of the many challenges Libya's transitional rulers face in imposing their authority over myriad armed groups in the country since Gathafi was ousted.
They also expose how under-equipped Tunisian border guards have struggled to clamp down on illicit activities by heavily armed gangs.
Libyan and Tunisian officials have met on several occasions to discuss border security and crossings are regularly forced to close due to clashes or other security problems.