Tunisian govt announces 'cautious stability' in Ben Guerdane
Karem Yehia, , Saturday 12 Mar 2016
Islamist militant attacks Monday claimed around 60 victims; heavy exchange of fire witnessed Thursday night


Tunisian authorities announced Friday that life has gradually returned to normal in Ben Guerdane city that saw deadly clashes with Islamist militants Monday.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi described the attack that left around 60 people dead as a failed attempt by militants to establish a new Islamist militant province on the border with Libya.

Islamist militants have exploited chaos following Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's 2011 downfall to build up a presence on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Essebsi denounced Monday's attacks on police and army posts near his country's border with Libya as "unprecedented" and "coordinated" assaults.

Spokesman for Tunisian defence ministry Belhassen Weslati said in a statement carried by the media Friday that the situation in the city is "cautiously stable" and that military and security forces are on alert for any emergency.

Weslati noted, however, the "continued closure of schools" in the city five hundred kilometres southeast of the capital. Weslati's remarks came after a heavy exchange of fire with militants Thursday night in the city, with three of them were killed and another arrested.

Radwan Azaalok, an activist in the field of social work who lives in Ben Guerdane, told Ahram Online that security forces raided a house owned by a mother of one of the Islamist militant leaders, with sporadic gunfire heard but no one arrested.

"The town, which lived its fifth day under the nighttime curfew from 1900-0500, saw its weekly Friday market," Azaalok added.

Azaalok said that movement in the market seemed almost normal and a lot of shops in the city opened their doors, stressing that "there is no shortage of basic foodstuffs, including bread, and basic services such as water and electricity are working as regularly."

Along with schools, government public administrations remain closed.

Azaalok also mentioned that a new head of the city was appointed and security measures in the streets and around mosques tightened.

However, Al-Hadi Yahmad, a Tunisian expert specialised in political Islam, told Ahram Online that a repeat of cycle of major attacks in the city is likely, especially in border and mountainous areas.

Al-Hadi said that Islamist militant attacks on two police stations and an army headquarters Monday was "an attempt to proclaim the nucleus of a potential Islamic emirate that could serve as a refuge for militants expected to flee Libya to the Tunisian border when wider air strikes in the country hit their camps."

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/190756.aspx