TUNIS: Tunisian troops have killed seven more Islamist militants during raids in Ben Guerdan, the town on the Libyan border where at least 55 people died during an attack on Monday by Islamic State fighters, the army said on Wednesday.
Witnesses and security sources said clashes were continuing on Wednesday between the armed forces and militants just outside Ben Guerdan in another operation to clear the area of fighters who appear to be seeking a territorial foothold inside Tunisia.
Military raids late on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning in Ben Guerdan also recovered weapons and at least ten other people have been arrested, a security source said.
Tunisia’s government said around 50 militants launched a dawn attack on army and police posts in Ben Guerdan on Monday, in one of their largest assaults on Tunisia. The army killed 36 attackers and 12 troops and 7 civilians also died.
Prime Minister Habib Essid blamed the attack on Islamic State, which has grown in strength just over the border in Libya, taking advantage of the security chaos there to expand its presence and draw foreign recruits.
The government said it is still investigating whether the militants crossed over from Libya or were already inside Ben Guerdan. But authorities found three arms caches in the city after the attack.
Since its 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has moved towards democracy. But it has also battled a growing Islamist militancy at home and more than 3,000 Tunisians have left to fight for Islamic State and other jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.
Growing security turmoil in Libya, where two rival governments and armed factions vie for control, has allowed Islamic State to thrive just over Tunisia’s border, and Western governments are helping the country beef up frontier security.