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Tunisia security forces launch deadly raids after attack near Libya border

Tunisia's interior ministry says security forces have killed five "terrorists" in an operation near the Libyan border. It comes a day after a deadly raid launched by militants on the town of Ben Guerdane was thwarted.

People shelter from the gunfire outside a house, in El Aouija, outside Ben Guerdane, 650 km away from Tunis, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.

In this archive image from March 2, people shelter from gunfire near Ben Guerdane.

A statement released by the ministry late Tuesday said weapons had been seized during an operation conducted that day near

the border with Libya.

"As part of the continuing operation at Ben Guerdane, security forces and the army were able to eliminate five terrorists tonight in the Benniri area," the ministry said.

It comes a day after an estimated 55 people - including 36 attackers, 12 security personnel and seven civilians - were

killed in an hours-long firefight

after gunmen attempted to seize military and police facilities in the town of Ben Guerdane.

Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said the attackers launched their assault from a mosque. He praised security forces for thwarting what he said was an attempt by extremists to carve out territory.

"The reaction was rapid and strong. We won a battle and are prepared for many others," he said. "Now they know Tunisia is no easy pushover and that it is not so simple to set up an emirate in Ben Guerdane," Essid added, in an apparent reference to the "Islamic State" ("IS") terror group.

Fears of IS spreading over border

While no one has directly claimed responsibility for Monday's attack, "IS" has been implicated. Michael Ayari of the International Crisis Group think tank was quoted by news agency AFP as saying the attack was an extension of the armed conflict in Libya. Some "IS" members, he explained, "consider that Ben Guerdane could become a strategic 'liberated' zone that would include southeastern Tunisia and the Tripoli region [of Libya]."

The border area has seen several clashes over recent days. Large numbers of Tunisian citizens have gone to Libya to join the "Islamic State" group. Tunisia, which relies heavily on tourism, experienced two deadly "IS"

attacks targeting foreign tourists

last year. The attacks were believed to have been planned from Libya. Chaos in Libya following the 2011 NATO-backed overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi has been taken advantage of by militant groups including "IS."

se/rc (AFP, dpa)

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