Tunisian security forces pressed a search for jihadists near the Libyan border on Tuesday after a deadly raid the authorities described as an "unprecedented" assault by the Islamic State (IS) group and attempt to create an “emirate” in the country.
Prime Minister Habib Essid said around 50 extremists were believed to have taken part in Monday's coordinated attack on an army barracks and police and National Guard posts in the border town of Ben Guerdane.
He said that 36 attackers had been killed and seven captured in a fierce battle that also saw the deaths of seven civilians and 12 security force personnel.
Essid told a news conference that the militants "murdered one internal security force member in his own home".
He said three civilians and 14 security personnel were also wounded.
Interior ministry spokesman Yasser Mesbah said the search for any militants still at large was continuing in the border area. It was not clear how many more militants authorities believe may still be at large.
Mesbah said a nighttime curfew imposed in the town after the attack had been well respected and that the situation was "stable".
On Monday, Essid said that the operation's aim had been to create a "Daesh (IS group) emirate" in Ben Guerdane.
President Beji Caid Essebsi said the "unprecedented" jihadist attack was "maybe aimed at controlling" the border region and vowed to "exterminate these rats".
Residents told AFP the assailants appeared to be natives of the region.
They stopped people, checked their ID cards apparently to seek out members of the security forces, and announced their brief takeover of Ben Guerdane as "liberators".
‘They specifically attacked houses of officers and military personnel’
Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadist groups, said it was possible that the militants had local backing.
“Many witnesses are saying that some of these attackers came from Libya but they had support from inside the town,” he said.
Witnesses also reported that the attackers had “roamed the streets saying they were militants or jihadists from the Islamic State group”, said Nasr.
He added that “many jihadists” within the ranks of the Islamic State group are known to be from Ben Guerdane.
It was the second deadly clash in the border area in less than a week as Tunisia battles to prevent the large number of its citizens who have joined the IS group in Libya from returning to carry out attacks at home.
Two deadly IS group attacks on foreign tourists last year that have dealt a devastating blow to Tunisia's tourism industry are believed to have been planned from Libya.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2016-03-08