4 February 2014

Tunisia: Police Kill Gadhgadhi, Suspect in Belaid Assassination

Tunisian police have killed the suspected assassin of an opposition figure. The National Guard stormed a militant hideout in a seaside suburb of Tunis after a daylong standoff.

Interior Minister Lotfu Ben Jeddou said police killed seven people on Tuesday, including one man suspected of assassinating Chokri Belaid, nearly a year to the day after his murder. A policeman also died in the clash.

Police killed "seven heavily-armed terrorists," Ben Jeddou told reporters, and then named Chokri's alleged killer: "Kamel Gadhgadhi was found to be among them."

Gadhgadhi was suspected of killing the centrist and secular politician Belaid outside his home on February 6, 2013. Belaid's assassination set off sweeping political uncertainty in the North African nation.

In the aftermath of the 2011 overthrow of its secular dictatorship, Tunisia saw a rise of radical Islamic groups, many of whom took up arms, killing politicians and clashing with soldiers. Ben Jeddou said that Tuesday's operation also led to the deaths of two men suspected of taking part in an ambush in Mount Chaambi that killed eight soldiers, five of whom had their throats slit.

'Reveal the truth'

Ben Jeddou showed a photo of the slain Gadhgadhi wearing an explosives belt and said police recovered weapons, bombs and rocket-propelled grenades from two houses occupied by the men. Ben Jeddou identified the men killed on Tuesday as members of Ansar al-Shariah, an ultraconservative Islamic movement banned for its alleged links to al Qaeda and involvement in attacks. The group also stands accused of storming the US Embassy in Tunis in 2012.

"We chose not to drop our guard in the face of terrorism, and we will fight them despite the costs to our security forces," Ben Jeddou said. "We will keep working to reveal the truth of the two political assassinations," he added, referring to Belaid and Mohammed Brahmi, an opposition leader killed last July whose murder contributed to further upheaval in Tunisia.

The country's Islamist-led coalition resigned in the wake of the killings. A new technocratic administration took office in January.

Shootouts between security forces and suspected militants happen nearly every month in Tunisia, especially in the mountains along the country's border with Algeria. Clashes around Mount Chaambi, near the city of Kasserine, have led to the deaths of at least a dozen soldiers.

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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