Tu­nisia po­lice­men killed in clashes with ji­hadists

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY KAOUTHER LARBI

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.

AFP

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.

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