Tunisia has arrested some 1,500 suspected jihadists this year, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa told Reuters yesterday, part of a security crackdown aimed at safeguarding the North African country's fragile transition to democracy.

Among those held are hundreds of militants who have fought in Syria's civil war and who could now pose a danger at home, Jomaa said, as Tunisia prepares to hold parliamentary elections on October 26 and a presidential poll next month.

Jomaa also cited the political turmoil in neighbouring Libya as a key security threat and said his government had stepped up border cooperation with Algeria, which shares Tunisia's concerns that Islamist militants are using Libyan territory as a refuge.

“Since the beginning of this year, we have arrested about 1,500 terrorism suspects. They will face justice in the coming months, including 500 who will be tried this month,” Jomaa said in an interview.

“The number of Tunisians fighting in Syria is esti-mated at about 3,000. A few hundred of them have returned to Tunisia and they have been tracked down and arrested,” he said. Since its 2011 “Jasmine revolution” that ousted autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has faced a rise in Islamist militant violence, including attacks on security forces, but Jomaa said such concerns would not derail the elections.

“Despite all the serious threats from jihadists, the elections will be a success and we have put in place security plans to counter any threat,” he said.

“We have strengthened the security presence, especially on the border with Algeria and Libya,” Jomaa said. “Tens of thousands of soldiers and police are ready to ensure the success of the elections.”

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