TUNIS: Tunisian police killed one Islamist militant and another died when he detonated his suicide explosive belt during an exchange of gunfire in the central city of Sidi Bouzid, a government official said Sunday.
Tunisia’s armed forces have been cracking down on militants allied to Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch, especially since the country suffered four major attacks in the last two years, including two on foreign tourists.
Both were “dangerous terrorist elements,” and one, probably a foreigner, was a leader in a group linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, National Guard spokesman Khalifa Chibani told AFP. “Units had discovered contacts between the Okba Ibn Nafaa Battalion [a group connected to Al-Qaeda] and people inside Sidi Bouzid,” he said.
The clash came when police raided a house in the Ouled Chebli district where the group had been under surveillance for weeks.
The group had been in the coastal city of Sousse, where a Daesh-allied gunman killed more than 30 tourists in a 2015 attack on a beach resort.
“The police engaged in gunfire with these terrorists in Sidi Bouzid. They killed one and another blew up his explosive belt,” the official said. Another three people suspected of links with the group were detained and security forces were hunting for other suspects.
Despite a halt to major attacks, the country has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, when a suicide bombing in Tunis claimed by Daesh killed 12 presidential guards. More than 3,000 Tunisians have gone to fight for Daesh and other militant groups in Syria, Iraq and neighboring Libya. The government expects some of them to return to Tunisia as militants lose ground in those countries.
A small group of militants linked to AQIM is operating in the Chaambi mountains on the border with Algeria. Daesh claimed most of the recent attacks in Tunisia, including the Sousse hotel attack and raids by militants crossing from Libya into Tunisia’s Ben Gardane in 2016.