Tunisian army presses hunt for jihadists
TUNIS - Tunisia's army Friday pressed its hunt for a jihadist group hiding out in a border region with Algeria, an operation in which 15 security force members have been wounded, the interior ministry said.
"The search operations by the defence forces and the national guard are continuing on Mount Chaambi," ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said.
He refused to give further details on the search or comment on ongoing operations in the Kef region further north, also close to the Algerian border, where another jihadist cell is being targeted by the security forces.
The army said on Thursday that the situation was "under control."
On the ground, troops have formed a security barrier around Mount Chaambi and set up checkpoints at the entrance to the provincial capital Kasserine, with reinforcements arriving on Thursday, an AFP journalist reported.
Tunisian forces have been hunting in the mountainous western region for the armed group since it attacked a border post in December killing a member of the national guard, or auxiliary police.
The search has intensified this week, with around 15 soldiers and national guards wounded since Monday, some seriously, by homemade landmines laid by the gunmen, in the operation to flush them out.
The army says there have been no direct clashes, but that its men are using mortar fire and light weapons to demine the area, with members of the security forces saying they have recovered weapons and manuals on making explosives.
The standoff in Mount Chaambi appears to be the worst of its kind since clashes in 2007 between the army and Islamists in Soliman, near Tunis, in which a soldier, two policeman and 11 Islamists died.
Since the revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, radical Islamists suppressed by the former dictator have become increasingly assertive in Tunisia and have been blamed for a wave of deadly attacks.