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TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia’s National Guard stormed a suspected militant hideout in a seaside suburb of Tunis after a daylong standoff today. Seven radicals were killed, including suspect in a political assassination last year, a minister said.
One National Guard member also died in the clash, which comes almost a year after the assassination of left-wing politician Chokri Belaid by Islamist extremists set off a political crisis in this North African nation.
Hundreds of masked anti-terror units flooded the Tunis neighborhood of Raoued during the standoff, filling its streets with armored vehicles. Snipers were perched on rooftops.
In the aftermath of the 2011 overthrow of its secular dictatorship, Tunisia saw a rise of radical Islamic groups, many of whom took up arms against the state, killing politicians and clashing with soldiers.
Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou told a press conference that one of the militants killed had been identified as Kamel Gadhgadhi, the suspected assassin of Belaid. Two other radicals killed were involved in the gruesome ambush of soldiers in Mount Chaambi that left eight dead, five with slit throats, he said.
“We chose not to drop our guard in the face of terrorism and we will fight them despite the costs to our security forces,” said Ben Jeddou, whose job has been threatened by his inability until now to bring the killers of Belaid and another opposition politician to justice. “We will keep working to reveal the truth of the two political assassinations.”
Ben Jeddou showed a photo of the slain Gadhgadhi wearing an explosive belt. He said police had recovered a large amount of weapons, explosives and rocket-propelled grenades from two houses occupied by the militants.
The minister identified the attackers as members of Ansar al-Shariah, an ultraconservative Islamic movement that has been banned as a terrorist movement for its alleged links to al-Qaida and its involvement in attacks.
Sandwiched between Algeria, the birthplace of al-Qaida’s North African branch, and Libya, a source of weapons following its civil war, Tunisia has had to deal with a rising threat of armed militants.
Nearly every month there’s news of a shootout between security forces and militants, especially in the mountains along its border with Algeria. At least a dozen soldiers have been killed in clashes around Mount Chaambi, near the city of Kasserine.