Jihadists turn Tunisia border with Algeria into open battlefield
MOUNT CHAAMBI (Tunisia) - Tunisian security forces clashed on Wednesday with a group of around 50 armed jihadists in the remote Mount Chaambi region, a security source at the scene said.
"The group consists of more than 50 Salafi jihadists" the source said, adding that they were well armed.
A journalist nearby reported hearing an exchange of gunfire in the area, which is close to Tunisia's border with Algeria.
A land mine suspected of being planted by the hardline Islamists wounded six Tunisian police officers on Tuesday as they pursued them near the Algerian border.
It was the third mine blast in Tunisia in two days, prompting Prime Minister Ali Larayedh to hold an emergency meeting with his defence and interior ministers.
On Monday two policemen were seriously wounded in two explosions, also while searching for militants in the remote Mount Chaambi region west of Tunis. One policeman lost a leg in Monday's blasts and the other was badly wounded in the eyes.
Mount Chaambi has been repeatedly targeted in search operations by security forces since last December, when a policeman was killed in clashes with gunmen there.
Larayedh told reporters his government, led by the Islamist Ennahda party, would not tolerate "terrorism".
"Terrorism and spreading death have no future and will not prevail," he said. "The will of the people and life will triumph."
Tunisian police blamed militant Salafists for the assassination of secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid in February, provoking the biggest street protests in Tunisia since the 2011 overthrow of secular dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The mine blasts were the latest attacks blamed on hardline Islamists in the North African state, long among the most secular in the Arab world.
Salafists have also targeted wine sellers in several Tunisian cities, prompting secularists to accuse them of having formed a religious police and threatening the state.