7 March 2016

Tunisia: At Least 50 Dead, Including 35 Militants, As Tunisian Forces Repel Border Attack

Libyan-based Islamic State militants launched their second attack in as many weeks against Tunisian border posts: both failed. Western officials will help Tunisia devise a video-surveillance system along its border.

Tunisian security forces killed at least 35 militants in a series of failed attacks on multiple border posts Monday morning. As many as three security forces and least four civilians were also killed and several militants were captured during the failed raid.

"I saw a lot of militants at dawn, they were running with their Kalashnikovs," Hussein, a local resident, told Reuters by telephone. "They said they were Islamic State, and they came to target the army and the police."

A joint statement by the defense and interior ministries said, "Police and army units killed at least 35 terrorists and captured six after police and National Guard posts, as well as an army barracks in Ben Guerdane, were targeted in coordinated attacks by armed terrorist groups."

A 12-year-old was among the civilians killed, and two security agents were also among the dead, according to a hospital official.

The Tunisian army deployed reinforcements and helicopters to the area and authorities were hunting several attackers believed to be on the run. The government urged residents to stay indoors.

The attack in Ben Guerdane - in the southeast of the country, along the Libyan border - is the second deadly clash in less than week as fighting in neighboring Libya threatens to spill across the border.

Militants from Libya

Five militants were killed in a firefight last week outside the town, which also left one civilian dead and a commander wounded. The interior ministry said at least four of the five militants were Tunisians who had entered from Libya in a bid to carry out attacks in their homeland.

Islamic militants, trained in Libya, carried out several attacks in Tunisia last year, including an assault on the Tunis Bardo museum and a Sousse beach hotel. In both cases, they targeted foreign tourists, 38 of whom were killed in the Sousse attack last June.

Tourism is seen as vital to Tunisia's economy.

In response, Tunisia has completed a 125-mile water-filled trench along its Libyan border and invited in Western military advisers in an attempt to prevent further incursions. The military advisers are training Tunisian border forces, which appeared well prepared for the attack.

The US bombing of an Islamic State base in the Libyan town of Sabratha last month yielded clues that such assaults were in the works. As a result, Tunisian security forces were placed on alert based on "precise information" of possible border infiltrations following the February 19 raid.

A UN working group on the use of mercenaries concluded that more than 5,000 Tunisians, mostly under the age of 36, have traveled abroad to join jihadist groups.

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

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