By Houda Mzioudet.
Tunis, 2 March 2016:
At least six people were killed and two others injured in deadly clashes near the Tunisian . . .[restrict]town of Ben Guerdane between armed militants who had crossed from Libya and Tunisian army and security forces today. The militants are believed to be Islamic State supporters fleeing from Sabratha after the US air raid on some of their facilities there and last week’s subsequent clashes with locals.
Five militants, believed to be three Tunisians and two Libyans, died when they clashed with Tunisian security forces and army. It was reported on social media that two of them blew themselves up inside a house in which they had tried to hide. A Ben Guerdane local was killed by a stray bullet. A Tunisian colonel and security official were also injured in the operation which lasted for five hours.
Eleven militants altogether are said to have crossed into Tunisia using four-wheel drive vehicles.
A Ben Guerdane local who asked to remain anonymous told the Libya Herald that the operation took place in open farmland in the Awiji area, a few kilometres south of Ben Guerdane. The area has traditionally been associated with illegal smuggling from Libya.
Tunisian security officials say they seized five Kalashnikovs, three 4WD vehicles, ammunition, hand grenades and mobile phones among other items in the possession of the armed group. They also discovered an arms cache in the area where the weapons were found.
Several Tunisian media sources reported that some of the armed group members forced their way into nearby houses and hostage some of the occupants.
Army reinforcements were sent after a Ben Guerdane resident alerted security officials about the presence of the group in the Awiji area.
Belhassen Weslati, the spokesman of Tunisian Ministry of Defence, told Watania 1 TV station tonight that they saturated the area in which the “terrorist elements” took shelter, staging a wide sweeping operation.
Yasser Mosbah, from the Tunisian Ministry of Interior media department, speaking on the same channel, claimed that the infiltrators were IS members who had survived the 19 February US airstrike at Sabratha and the subsequent clashes between IS and local forces. Over 40 IS fighters, almost all of them Tunisians, died in the airstrike.
It had been expected that militants from Sabratha would try to flee to Tunisia, he added, Following today’s operation, Tunisian air force fighter planes have been patrolling the buffer zone along the border. [/restrict]