President Beji Caid Essebsi, after an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Habib Essid, followed developments in Ben Guerdane from the offices of the Interior Ministry's Counter-terrorism task force at El-Aouina, in Tunis.
President Essebsi gave a call in statement through Radio Tunis's local Tatouine station in which he vowed to "exterminate the terrorist rats." Both President Essebsi, and Prime Minister Essid, have stated that they believe the attack was an attempt to establish an Islamic State Emirate or 'vilayet' in Ben Guerdane.
Prime Minister Habib Essid gave a televised address in which he praised the efforts of military and security personnel. Prime Minister Essid also called on the residents of Ben Guerdane to respect a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, which was announced earlier in the day and added that “An extensive search operation will be conducted…in the city" to ascertain whether any militants remain in Ben Guerdane.
Prime Minister Essid held an emergency meeting with Essebsi earlier in the day, and also met with the Ministers of the Interior and Defense before dispatching them to Ben Guerdane.
On February 19, a U.S. airstrike targeted Tunisian militants outside the Libyan city of Sabratha. The primary target of the airstrike was Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian Militant wanted Tunisian authorities for his role in the Bardo National Museum attack in March 2015, according to local Libyan sources the U.S. airstrike killed over 50 suspected militants, the vast majority of whom were Tunisian nationals.
In late February the Libyan Tripoli government released a taped confession of two Tunisian militants captured in Sabratha, prior to the U.S. airstrike. In the video the two militants one of the men identified as “Mohamed Ben Mohsen Ben Mohamed El Gharbi” (Abu Zid) claimed the militants targeted by the Sabratha airstrike had been preparing an assault on Ben Guerdane.
Tunisian security officials believe all three gunmen behind the Bardo and Sousse attacks (Yassine Labidi and Saber Khachnaoui at Bardo, Seifeddine Rezgui at Sousse) had trained in militant camps outside Sabratha.
A week ago a civilian and five presumed militants were killed in clashes on Wednesday, March 2, near Ben Guerdane (Medenine Governorate) after three SUV’s containing ten militants entered Tunisia from Libya, passing over the security barrier along the Tunisia-Libya border were surrounded by National Guard and Army units. Of the five militants killed, four were shot dead by security forces while a fifth detonated an explosive device.
The Islamic State affiliated, Jund al-Khilafah, claimed responsibility for the Bardo and Sousse attacks, and in November Jund al-Khilafah also claimed to be behind the suicide bombing in Tunis which killed twelve members of Tunisia’s Presidential Guard. Tunisian officials have stated that the explosives used in the Tunis bomb attack were of a ‘similar type’ to explosives seized earlier in 2015 which had been fabricated in Libya.
The attack on Ben Guerdane is now the deadliest attack in Tunisia's history. Surpassing an attempted takeover of Gafsa in 1980 by approximately 200 separatists who were armed and supported by the Libyan dictator Maoumar Gaddafi.
In 1980, forty one people were killed and over a hundred were injured. The current death toll from today's attack on Ben Guerdane currently stands at 53.