Al Qaeda-affiliated group claims responsibility for Tunisia terrorist attack
TUNIS - “The Oqba Ibn Nafaa contingent", a division of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed late Sunday responsibility for an ambush that claimed the lives of six Tunisian security forces.
The Tunisian interior ministry had announced Sunday that six members of Tunisia's security forces were killed in a "terrorist attack" near the border with Algeria.
A national guard border patrol in the Ain Sultan area of the Jendouba border province "was hit in a landmine ambush that killed six agents" at 11:45 am (1045 GMT), the ministry said in a statement.
Ministry spokesman General Soufiane Zaaq said the blast was a "terrorist attack" and that assailants had "opened fire on security forces" after the mine exploded.
"Combing operations" were under way, said Zaaq.
AQIM said in a statement its "Mujahadeen detonated an explosive device on the two vehicles of the enemy and clashed with them", claiming that nine soldiers were killed, according to the SITE group that monitors jihadist online activity.
"We are aware that the war on terrorism will be long," interim Interior Minister Ghazi Jeribi said on state TV, adding that three security forces were also wounded in the attack.
"We will go into their (the terrorists) dens and we will avenge the Tunisian people," said Jeribi, who was ordered to go to Jendouba.
A memorial service for the victims was held on Monday in Tunis.
The attack comes as Tunisia is hoping for its best tourist season since a spate of jihadist attacks in 2015 sent visitor numbers plunging.
The attack is likely to exacerbate an ongoing political crisis in Tunisia, where Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who recently fired the previous interior minister, is facing heat from political and trade union critics.
There are regular attacks along the Algerian border, but this was the first time in two years security forces suffered such a loss.
Algeria's foreign ministry "strongly condemned the terrorist attack", while the European Union offered its condolences and pledged its "full support" to Tunisia "in the fight against terrorism."
France's foreign affairs ministry also condemned the attack and said it would "stand with the Tunisian people and authorities at this difficult time".
Sunday's assault marks the bloodiest attack in Tunisia since a March 2016 attack on security installations in the town of Ben Guerdane on the Libyan border.
Tunisia's tourism industry is still rebounding from a string of devastating attacks in 2015, including one at the National Bardo museum in Tunis and another targeting a beach resort in Sousse that together killed 59 foreign tourists and a Tunisian guard.
In May, Tourism Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik said the industry had made a "real recovery."
"People are coming back to Tunisia because there is security... we are at the same level (of security) as any European city," she said.
Since the 2011 uprising that toppled the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime, jihadist attacks in Tunisia have killed dozens of members of the security forces and foreign tourists.
Since Ben Ali's fall, "at least 127 militants and 118 soldiers, national guardsmen, and police officers have been killed in the northwest", according to figures compiled by analyst Matt Herbert and published in June by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"This new attack shows that there are still pockets where security problems have not been solved," he says, while stressing "the vast majority of Tunisia remains safe."
The country has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, when an ISIS-claimed suicide bombing in Tunis killed 12 presidential guards.