Tunis - Tunisian security forces have killed "several
terrorists" in an operation against an armed group suspected of an attack
this week in which two policemen died, the interior ministry said on Friday.
"Special forces from the interior ministry, the
National Guard and the army took part in this operation. It began with air
strikes and we are now in the terrestrial phase," ministry spokesperson Mohamed
Ali Aroui told AFP.
"Several terrorists have been killed, but we can't say
how many as the operation is ongoing."
Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou, speaking on private
radio station Mosaique FM, said late on Thursday that the group was made up of
around 20 to 25 fighters.
Two policemen were killed and another wounded in Thursday's
clash in the Beja region, 70km west of Tunis, where they were trying to verify
the presence of an armed group sheltering there.
Islamist militancy has been on the rise in Tunisia since the
2011 revolution that toppled strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the
But the authorities had not previously reported that armed
groups were active in the Beja region.
Since December, security forces have been tracking a group
of militants allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda in the Chaambi mountain region along
the Algerian border, with some 15 soldiers and police killed in the operations.
Despite air strikes and a major military offensive launched
in July, the militants remain active, with clashes reported as recently as last
The interior ministry says Abou Iyadh, the leader of
Tunisia's main Salafist movement Ansar al-Sharia, and those suspected of
killing opposition politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi this year are
holed up in the region.
Abou Iyadh, whose real name is Saif Allah Bin Hussein, is a
former al-Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan who is also accused of orchestrating a
deadly attack on the US embassy in Tunis in September 2012.
Tunisia was plunged into political crisis in July when
Brahmi was shot dead by suspected jihadist gunmen, in circumstances similar to
Belaid's murder six months earlier.
The ruling Islamist party Ennahda, which shot to power in 2011
parliamentary polls, is blamed by the opposition for failing to rein in the
country's jihadist movement.