At least 45 people, including civilians, have been killed in clashes between Islamist fighters and security forces during an insurgent attack on a Tunisian border town not far from a popular resort.
The town that came under attack, Ben Guerdan, is just 65km northeast of the island resort of Djerba. The Tunisian Army sealed off the resort and two border crossings with Libya, which is about 30km east of Ben Guerdan, the TAP state news agency said.
According to the Interior Ministry, among the dead were 28 militants, 10 members of the security forces and seven civilians.
It was not immediately clear whether the attackers came across the border, but the assault on Monday is sparking fears of violence spilling into Tunisia from Libya, which remains in chaos since the NATO-backed overthrow of its government in 2011.
The attack apparently targeted army and police barracks in Ben Guerdan. Footage shown by local TV showed Tunisian troops crouched in doorways and on rooftops, with gunshots audible in the background. Local residents said the bodies of slain militants were lying in the streets.
“I saw a lot of militants at dawn, they were running with their Kalashnikovs,” Hussein, a resident, told Reuters by telephone. “They said they were Islamic State (US, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and they came to target the army and the police.”
IS, which has its powerbase in Iraq and Syria, advanced into turbulent Libya last year. The terrorists, eyeing up the territory’s oil riches, took over the city of Sirte in the east and the surrounding areas.
It also claimed responsibility for high-profile terrorist attacks in the region last year, including a gun assault on the Bardo National Museum in Tunisia’s capital in March, a deadly gun attack on a beach in the resort city of Sousse in June, and bombing a presidential convoy in November.
Security concerns have dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourist trade, which was a major source of income for the country.