Tunisia policemen killed in clashes with jihadists
Four policemen were killed and several others wounded Monday in separate clashes with suspected jihadists in Tunisia, which has seen a surge in radical Islam since the 2011 uprising.
The interior ministry blamed an al-Qaida-linked group for one attack and said “terrorists” — the term it uses for jihadists — were involved in the second.
In the first clash in central Tunisia, three policemen and a jihadist were killed when national guardsmen, acting on a tip-off, tried to ambush two armed men who were allegedly planning attacks, it said.
“The national guard attempted to ambush at dawn two terrorists on a motorcycle in Sidi Ali Ben Aoun after obtaining information that (they) were about to launch an operation,” ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui told AFP.
He said two officers were killed in the ensuing shoot-out, and that the militants fled before killing a third policeman who had been going to work.
They were pursued by an elite unit of the national guard, Aroui said.
“One of the terrorists was exterminated, the second was wounded and arrested. He is in a serious condition,” he added.
Twelve people were wounded, including three members of the security forces, a soldier and eight bystanders, an official at the nearby Sidi Bouzid hospital told AFP.
One civilian was in a critical condition, the official added.
The interior ministry blamed the violence on Tunisia’s main jihadist group, the Al-Qaeda-linked Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigades which it has accused of being behind several recent attacks.
“The two terrorists ... belong to Okba Ibn Nafaa,” Aroui said, although he did not identify them.
Authorities have blamed the group for a series of attacks, including the March massacre at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis that killed 21 foreign tourists and a policeman although the Islamic State group had claimed responsibility for the museum killings.
Shoot-out Near Algeria Border
In the second incident on Monday, a Tunisian policeman was killed and four wounded in clashes with jihadists on the border with Algeria, Aroui said.
“A national guardsman was martyred and four others wounded in Jendouba region on the border with Algeria during a shoot-out with a terrorist group,” Aroui told AFP.
He said police backed by troops had launched a search operation for the assailants.
The Tunisian army has been battling militants in the rugged Mount Chaambi region near the border with Algeria since 2012.
Tunisia has seen a surge in radical Islam since veteran president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in the 2011 revolution.
Dozens of members of the security forces have been killed since then in jihadist attacks.
The bloodiest single attack was in July 2014, when jihadists killed 15 soldiers on Mount Chaambi, considered to be a main rear base of the militants.
In May, the United States announced the delivery of 52 Humvee military vehicles and a patrol boat to help Tunisia counter jihadist violence and ward off the insecurity of neighboring Libya.
The 52 HMMWVs aim “to improve force mobility” of the Tunisian army, the U.S. Embassy in Tunis said at the time.
The delivery of the armored vehicles came just a week before U.S. President Barack Obama hosted at the White House his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi.
During the White House visit in May, Obama declared Tunisia a “non-NATO ally,” which would allow for enhanced military cooperation and the transfer of advanced weapons.
Tunisian militaries stand guard outside the hospital on Monday, June 15 in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, following clashes that killed three Tunisian police and a suspected jihadist.