TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia said on Tuesday it had dismantled a recruiting cell sending jihadis to fight in Libya and arrested dozens in part of tighter security and border controls to counter Islamist militants.
Tunisia is worried that violence will spill over from Libya, where Islamic State militants have expanded their influence, exploiting turmoil as two rival governments battle for control.
Tunisians make up one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, but more recently militants have been sending jihadis to take part in the conflict in Tunisia's North African neighbor Libya.
"Security officers and the army arrested ten terrorists trying to sneak into Libya to join the armed groups in Libya," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The communique said security forces also dismantled four terrorist cells who were recruiting for Libya and arrested 22 more suspects in those operations.
The ministry said the cells coordinated with Tunisian active jihadists in Libya who run the training camps over the border with other foreign fighters.
Western governments are increasingly worried that Islamic State fighters are extending their foothold in Libya to try to secure a base just across the Mediterranean from Europe.
Tunisia is waging a campaign against hardline Islamist groups who emerged after a 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali that put the country on track to democracy.
Among the militant groups that emerged after 2011 is Ansar al-Sharia, which is listed as a terrorist organization by U.S. and European officials after being blamed for storming of the U.S. embassy in Tunis.
More than 3,000 Tunisians have also left to join militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, and the government is concerned about the prospect of returning jihadi fighters carrying out attacks on their home soil.
Prime Minister Habib Essid said late on Monday that Tunisia has strengthened its military presence on the Libyan border to control the situation and stop the infiltration of jihadists from infiltrating to Tunisia and Libya
Tunisia arrested about 400 jihadists since he took office last month, he said. Last week, Tunisian troops also captured two large arms caches near the border with Libya, including rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; editing by Patrick Markey and Dominic Evans)