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TUNISIA

Tunisian forces kill nine militants ahead of anti-terror march

Police survey a press conference by Tunisia's interior minister in Tunis on March 26, 2015
Police survey a press conference by Tunisia's interior minister in Tunis on March 26, 2015 Fethi Belaid, AFP
2 min

Tunisian forces have killed nine men belonging to the country's main jihadist group, which was accused of organising the attack on its national museum, government officials said Sunday.

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The operations late on Saturday in the Gafsa region came hours before thousands of Tunisians were expected to join world leaders including French President François Hollande in a solidarity march in Tunis.

“Our forces killed nine terrorists in a large operation in Sidi Aich in Gafsa. They also captured arms and explosives,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said.

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid confirmed later Sunday that one of the leaders of the group, Lokmane Abou Sakhr – an Algerian who was singled out as the organiser of the museum attack – was among the dead.

“We have killed most of the leaders of Okba Ibn Nafaa who were behind many recent attacks,” Essid said at a Tunis airport waiting to greet visiting leaders that were joining the march. “This is a clear and strong response to the terrorism after the Bardo attack.”

Islamist militant loyalties blurring

The men allegedly belonged to the local al Qaeda-linked Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, which authorities have claimed was behind the March 18 attack on the Bardo museum that left a Tunisian policeman and 21 foreign tourists dead.

On Saturday, the Elysée palace announced a fourth French national had died of the wounds she sustained in the attack, bringing the total tourist death toll to 22.

The Islamic State (IS) group claimed the Bardo massacre one day after the attack. Meanwhile, the Tunisian government has said fighters from Okba Ibn Nafaa were involved.

"At this stage we cannot name (the group responsible)," Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli said earlier this week after 23 people, including a woman, were arrested in connection with the attack. "What is certain is that there are links with Okba Ibn Nafaa," he said.

The Bardo attack underscores how Islamist militant loyalties are blurring as they seek a new North African front, especially in Libya, where political chaos and factional fighting has allowed the IS group to gain an outpost.

Thousands of Tunisians are expected to take to the streets for the march against extremism on Sunday. The rally will end at the museum, where a stone tablet will be dedicated to the memory of the victims.

According to authorities, Okba Ibn Nafaa has been behind a series of attacks on security forces that has left around 60 dead since late 2012.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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