Tunisian special forces stand outside a bullet-riddled building in the Tunis suburb of Raoued in which armed militants were holed up, yesterday.
TUNIS: Tunisian police killed seven Islamist militants, including a senior commander wanted for the assassination of two opposition leaders, after a clash outside Tunis where the armed group had stashed arms and bomb belts.
The raid was one of the deadliest since Tunisian forces cracked down on the banned Islamist militant movement Ansar Al Sharia, whose leader declares allegiance to Al Qaeda, and which Washington lists as a foreign terrorist group.
Gun battles broke out late on Monday when police surrounded a house in the Raoued suburb north of Tunis, leaving one police officer and seven militants dead, the Interior Ministry said. Among those killed was Kamel Ghadghadi, a senior member of the Ansar Al Sharia, wanted for killing seven soldiers, some of whom had their throats slit, and for assassinating opposition leaders Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.
“Ghadghadi is among those killed. This is the best present for Tunisians a year after the murder of Belaid,” Interior Minister Lofti Ben Jeddou told reporters at a news conference. Officials showed reporters a photograph of what they said was Ghadghadi’s corpse, wearing a suicide bomb belt. Other explosive material and weapons were also found in the house. Heavily armed counter-terrorism police patrolled near the whitewashed house where the fighting took place, its outer wall pockmarked by bullet holes.
Ansar Al Sharia was one of the more radical movements to emerge after Tunisia’s 2011 uprising ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose autocratic regime suppressed and jailed Islamist leaders.
Tunisia formally celebrates a new constitution on Friday, with French President Francois Hollande and other dignitaries invited to the ceremony to mark the North African country’s progress to democracy.