A civilian and five presumed militants are dead after 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 four dead militants who have been identified thus far are all Tunisian nationals.
An army colonel was wounded and is in stable condition, however, a civilian was also killed after being wounded in the abdomen by a stray round.
According to Defense Ministry spokesman Belhassen Oueslati, three all-terrain vehicles, Kalashnikov rifles, explosive belts, an artillery piece, grenades, munitions and mobile phones were seized during the operation.
The vehicles stopped in the town El Amria, after being intercepted by security forces, where the suspected militants took shelter in in a residential home. Five militants were surrounded in the home, another five are presumed to have escaped on foot and have not been located.
The Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya has been closed, and patrols are searching for any remaining militants.
During the clashes The Tunisian air force scrambled planes to patrol the border and army helicopters are supporting the Army and National Guard units on the ground.
The Libyan Tripoli government released a taped confession last week of two Tunisian militants captured in Sabratha, prior to a February 19, 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 the Tunisian border town of Ben Guerdane.
The intended target was of the airstrike was Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian Militant wanted in connection with the Bardo National Museum attack in March 2015, was the intended target of a U.S. airstrike outside Sabratha on February 19, according to local Libyan sources the U.S. airstrike killed over 50 suspected militants.
Ben Guerdane (Medenine Governorate) is the commercial hub of the region bordering Libya, on which most of the local economy depends for smuggling of everything from subsidized Libyan gasoline, cigarettes and increasingly militants and weapons.
A day after the airstrike the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior announced that Tunisian National Guard units had arrested in Ben Guerdane, five individuals believed to have received training in militant camps near Sabratha, who were describe as “dangerous” and “planning to carry out terrorist plots” in Tunisia. The Ministry statement did not specify the date the arrest was made, nor the date the suspects are believed to have left Sabratha.
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. 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.
On Saturday, February 7, Tunisia’s Minister of Defense Farhat Horchani visited the military buffer zone along Tunisia’s border with Libya to announce the completion of construction of a 250 km land barrier along the Libyan border.