Hours after announcing the conclusion of a nearly twenty four siege that ended in the death a suspected militant the Ministry of the Interior announced the easing of the curfew imposed on Ben Guerdane since the March 7 attack.
The standoff, which ended on Monday, involved Tunisian National Guard and Army forces, including a helicopter which hovered overhead and several armored vehicles. Despite several explosions inside the house, the siege remained ongoing in the predawn hours of Monday morning, after sunrise security forces entered the building where they discovered the deceased suspect and the weapons inside.
On March 21, a joint statement from the Ministry of the Interiorr and the Ministry of Defense announced the ‘elimination of a terrorist element’ after a siege in Sayah on the outskirts of Ben Guerdane. Three army soldiers and six other security agents were wounded in the incident, as were several civilian bystanders who were wounded by shrapnel after they gathered to watch the standoff.
The body of a suspected terrorist killed during the standoff was found inside the house. A Kalashnikov assault rifle, ammunition and several hand grenades were also discovered in the badly damaged building that had been the scene of a twenty four hour siege after security units surrounded it on Sunday, March 20, heavy exchanges of gunfire and several explosions followed.
Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP cited a security source who stated that the house in question belongs to “one of the terrorists [who is] classified as very dangerous.”
The incident comes a day after a similar siege on Saturday, March 19 in the El-Amria neighborhood, also in the outskirts of Ben Guerdane, resulted in the deaths of two suspected terrorists.
Saturday’s standoff ended when one of the entrenched militants detonated an explosive device inside the home, killing both militants and ending the standoff. Several civilians and a member of the Tunisian National Guard were injured.
Both incidents are believed to be tied to the attack on March 7, in which over fifty militants simultaneously attacked security personnel, a national guard office, a customs office and a military barracks. During the attack and the days immediately following it security forces killed forty nine militants and arrested nine.
The Tunisian authorities have stated that the unprecedented attack was an attempt by Tunisian militants, active in Libya, to establish an Islamic State emirate in Tunisia.
Three major terrorist attacks perpetrated in Tunisia in 2015, the March 18 attack on the Bardo National Museum, the June 28 Sousse beach attack and a suicide bombing against a bus carrying members of Tunisia’s Presidential Guard in Tunis in November; have all been tied to Libya by the Tunisian authorities.
On February 19 of this year, the United States launched an airstrike, on militant training camps outside the Libyan city of Sabratha which is believed to have killed Noureddine Chouchane suspected of involvement in the Bardo attack and over fifty other Tunisian militants.
The training camps outside Sabratha are where the Tunisian authorities believe the gunmen responsible for the Bardo and Sousse attacks received training.
Regarding the curfew, the Ministry of the Interior announced on Monday that the curfew, effective immediately, has been eased to 10 p.m. (from 8 p.m.) and will continue to be lifted at 5 a.m.
The Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya, however, remains closed. Ben Guerdane’s economy is heavily reliant on trade with Libya, legal and otherwise, and with the lifting of the curfew there may be increased calls to reopen the border crossing.
The Ras Jedir border crossing has been closed several times in recent years, including for a period of fifteen days after the November suicide bombing in Tunis. That closure was met with protests by merchants in Ben Guerdane, although individuals and some organizations have begun calling for the Ras Jedir border crossing to be reopened there have not yet been any organized or popular street protests thus far.
In November a curfew was applied to the Greater (Grand) Tunis governorates of Tunis, Ben Arous, Ariana and Manouba.