Tunisia launches air-land Ops against extremists

Tunisia launches air-land Ops against extremists
Fri Aug 2, 2013 21:29:05

Tunisian forces launched a land and air operation against extremist militants near the Algerian border as Tunis battles a crisis sparked by a political slaying.

"A huge operation, with ground and air units, was launched at dawn to clean up the (Chaambi) mountain" area, armed forces spokesman Taoufik Rahmouni told Tunisian media on Friday.

He said the assault was mounted after clashes on Thursday night between soldiers and "a terrorist group," referring to fugitive extremist militants.

"We have not killed or arrested any terrorists" to date, he said, without giving a number for the hunted militants.

He later told AFP, "The operations will continue until they are eradicated."

A military source on the ground said the militants were "surrounded" in the area where eight Tunisian soldiers were slain this week.

He said helicopters had carried out air strikes.

"Either they give themselves up or they will be killed," he said.

The attack took place around 16 kilometers from the town of Kasserine, near Mount Chaambi, where the soldiers were found on Monday with their throats cut after an ambush by militants.

Mosaique FM radio said the raids were aimed at destroying militant hideouts. The explosions could be heard in Kasserine.

Tunisian troops have intensified their hunt for gunmen in Mount Chaambi since the spring, after several members of the security forces were killed or wounded by explosive devices.

A military source also said Friday that a group of Salafists were arrested in a Kasserine mosque.

This week's gruesome attack on soldiers has prompted the army in neighboring Algeria to reinforce its presence along the border.

With the authorities admitting an increase in extremism, the Tunisian interior ministry on Friday announced the arrest of an "extremist" who lost his hand in an accidental explosion.

"A unit on Thursday night arrested an extremist who was handling explosive substances and blew his hand off," it said.

The latest violence came as leaders in Tunis opened talks with opposition and civil society representatives to try to defuse the political crisis sparked by the July 25 murder of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi.


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