Militants clash with Tunisian forces near Libyan border

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 3/07/16, 11:25 am

Tunisian forces battled gunmen in a deadly attack near the Libyan border today that left at least 45 people dead. The clash comes as experts raise concerns about the impact of extremism in Libya on Tunisia’s fragile democracy.

The gunmen attacked local security posts in the border town of Ben Gerdane. Tunisia’s ministries of interior and defense released a joint statement saying their security forces killed 28 terrorists and arrested six others. Ten Tunisian soldiers and seven civilians, including a 12-year-old girl, also died in the attack.

“This attack is just reinforcing the urgent need for a political solution in Libya,” the ministry said in a statement.

Local authorities have imposed a curfew until 5a.m. tomorrow, as officials continue to search for attackers still on the loose. Tunisia also has closed its two border crossings with Libya.

Extremist fighters trained in Libya have carried out attacks in Tunisia since last year, targeting its tourism sector. Two attacks last summer killed more than 50 people, including the terrorists. Tunisian officials put security forces on alert last month after receiving information of possible border infiltrations following a U.S. raid on an Islamic State camp near the Libyan town of Sabratha on Feb. 19. Last week, local forces killed five armed men who came from Libya to Tunisia through the country’s Ben Gerdane border post.

“It’s definitely a threat to Tunisia,” said Karim Mezran, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Despite its political success as a democratic nation, Tunisia remains a very fragile state because of its bad economy.”

Libya has battled political instability since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Islamic State militants now control the Libyan town of Sirte. The ongoing crisis makes Libya a hub for training terrorists and smuggling weapons, leaving bordering Tunisia vulnerable.

Earlier this month, Tunisia completed part of a 125-mile barrier at its border to keep out terrorists. But experts warn it’s not a remedy.

“I don’t think the wall is a solution, as these attacks show very well,” Mezran said. “The main solution is to keep on strengthening the security forces of Tunisia and for Tunisia to start acting and reforming its economy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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