By Houda Mzioudet.
Tunis, 7 March 2016:
Tunisian authorities closed both the Ras Jedir and Wazen-Dehiba border crossings with Libya until further notice. . . .[restrict]It followed attacks by militants linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) on military barracks in the border town of Ben Guerdane early this morning. The fighting has left 53 dead so far. Of these, according to the Tunisian authorities, 35 were militants and 18 members of the security forces as well as civilians caught up in the battle.
According to eyewitness accounts to Tunisian media outlets, the militants took refuge in nearby houses and in the chaos a 12-year old girl was killed by a stray bullet.
A number of terrorist are reported to have been captured.
The fighting continued until the early afternoon, when the Tunisian army and police managed to re-establish order. The situation is now completely under control, according to Tunisian Ministry of Interior, with a curfew now in operation. Security forces are, however, on maximum alert in case there is another attack. They are now combing the area for any remaining terrorists who, it is thought, might try to escape across the border.
The Tunisian authorities have said that the entire border area is fully secured.
The unsettled town with high unemployment is known as centre for smuggling activities and smugglers are alleged to have “business” links with IS, helping smuggle its supporters across the border into Libya.
There are reports that the militants had crossed from Libya. According to Tripoli’s Rada (“deterrence”) forces, one of those killed in the fighting was a Tunisian who was an Islamic judge in Sabratha and who survived the US airstrike there. He had then gone to Sirte before heading to Tunisia, it claimed. However, a Ben Guerdane local who wished to remain anonymous told the Libya Herald that the gunmen were mostly from Ben Guerdane itself and that it was likely they were members of sleeper cells who had coordinated with Tunisian IS militants based in Libya.
During the day, Tunisian forces found an arms cache in the area.
The Libyan government in Beida has condemned the Ben Guerdane attack. In a statement today, its expressed its support for the Tunisian people and authorities in the fight against terrorism and its readiness to “fully assist all countries to root out those criminals”. [/restrict]