Larayed, a senior member of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party that now leads Tunisia’s government, said that a further nine members of the group were on the run inside Libya.
“Those accused in this case had previously mostly been in prison (in Tunisia) on terrorism charges and a number of them received training in Libya during the Libyan revolution,” he told reporters.
“We have confiscated several weapons including 25 Kalashnikov rifles and 2,500 bullets … They were intending to establish an Islamist state.”
“The investigation showed that they have relationships with groups close to al Qaeda in Libya and perhaps with members of al Qaeda in Algeria,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the group were plotting any specific attacks but Larayed said they were connected to a handful of fighters who clashed with Tunisian security forces in the eastern port city of Sfax this month. Tunisian forces killed two gunmen and captured a third.
Elections in October ushered in a new parliament in which Ennahda won the largest share of seats. Ennahda has since formed a government in coalition with two secular partners.
Tunisia’s internal security forces were shaken by the revolt that ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and brought down his police state a year ago and secularist groups have accused Ennahda of being too soft on religious extremists.
Islamists of all stripes faced severe repression under Ben Ali, and Larayed himself was incarcerated for years — making Ennahda wary of cracking down on more hardline Islamists.
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring protests that swept the region in 2011, has made a relatively smooth transition to an elected assembly that will draft a new constitution.
However, protests and strikes have continued in the centre of the country, where unemployment has remained high. Reuters