Tunisia suspects espionage after Belarusians are caught with several passports

Sfax TunisiaTunisian authorities are investigating two Belarusian men who were found to be in possession of several forged passports and electronic surveillance equipment. The two men were reportedly arrested on Tuesday in Sfax, Tunisia’s second most populous city, which is located on the Mediterranean coast. It is worth noting that Sfax was also the home of Mohamed Zaouari, the 49-year-old Hamas avition engineer who was shot dead in December 2016 by a group of assailants using gun silencers. Hamas claims that he was Zaouari was killed by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Tunis Afrique Presse, a private news agency headquartered in Tunis, said on Monday that the two Belarusians arrived in Sfax in early June, and checked into a hotel using Belarusian passports. They reportedly attracted the attention of the hotel staff, because Sfax is not a noted tourist destination and attracts few of the foreigners who visit the North African country. Hotel staff alerted the authorities after the two Belarusians forbade anyone, including hotel cleaning staff, to enter their room. Tunisian security officers then monitored the two Belarusians for two weeks before entering their room and searching their belongings, after receiving permission from their superiors. The search reportedly produced several forged passports from Ukraine, the Maldives and Poland, as well as SIM cards and electronic surveillance equipment. At a press conference in Sfax on Monday, Mourad Turki, a court official, said that the Tunisian Prosecutor’s Office decided to issue an arrest warrant for the two Belarusians. An investigation has been launched, he said.

Tunisia and Belarus do not have active diplomatic relations. There have been several high-level meetings between Tunisian and Belarusian officials in recent years, but diplomatic relations between the two countries have remained stagnant. Belsat TV, a Belarusian news network based in Poland, contacted the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs but a spokesman refused to comment on the cases of the two men. The United States-based Radio Free Europe was told by a government official in Minsk that the Belarusian government is looking into the matter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 July 2019 | Permalink

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Hamas drone expert shot dead in Tunisia by assailants using gun silencers

Mohamed ZouariA senior aviation engineer who headed the unmanned aerial vehicle program of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, has been shot dead outside his home in Tunisia by a group of assailants using gun silencers. Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for Hamas, the Palestinian group that today controls the Gaza Strip. He had lived outside of Tunisia for much of his life, most recently in Syria, where he is believed to have worked as an engineer in a private firm, while also consulting with the Palestinian group. He had returned to Tunisia in 2011, following the upheaval in the country that sparked the so-called Arab Spring.

Zaouari was reportedly shot on Thursday in his hometown of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, located 170 miles southeast of the capital Tunis. Local media said he was shot dead at the wheel of his car, which was parked outside his home. His body was riddled with over 20 bullets, according to a police statement. On Friday, Tunisia’s Deputy Prosecutor General, Mourad Turki, said during a radio interview that several people are believed to have participated in Zaouari’s killing. Eight people had been arrested in connection with the crime, while at least two others were still at large, said Turki. All ten are believed to be Tunisian citizens. Among them is a woman, claiming to be a journalist, who has reportedly interviewed Zaouari in the past. She was allegedly arrested as she was boarding a flight from the Tunis-Carthage International Airport to the Hungarian capital Budapest. Additionally, officials from Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said that four rental vehicles had been seized in connection with Zaouari’s killing, and that two weapons equipped with silencers had been found in one of the vehicles.

A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said Zaouari had been a part of Hamas for a decade, and blamed his killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. Hamas leaders said that Zaouari’s contribution to the organization would be celebrated during a specially designated “day of mourning”, and that his killing would be avenged. “The enemy must know the blood of the leader Zaouari will not go in vain”, said a statement issued by Hamas on Saturday. Israel has not responded to Hamas’ accusations. Tzachi Hanegbi, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of National Security and Foreign Affairs, said late on Saturday that Israel was “not connected” with Zaouari’s killing and added that “none of those people arrested are our allies”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 December 2016 | Permalink