8 Tunisian soldiers killed by 'terrorists': State TV

AFP , Monday 29 Jul 2013

Fatal gunfire exchanged in Mount Chaambi, where Tunisian army has been hunting militant Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda since December

Eight Tunisian soldiers were killed Monday in a firefight with "terrorists" near the Algerian border where the army has been tracking Al-Qaeda-linked militants for months, national television said.

"Eight soldiers were killed as they exchanged fire with a terrorist group in Mount Chaambi," state broadcaster Wataniya 1 said.

The channel said that those killed were "members of an elite unit," without giving further details on the clashes.

Several other Tunisian media outlets put the toll at between seven and nine, while the authorities did not immediately comment on the incident.

Security forces have been hunting a militant Islamist group in the rugged Mount Chaambi area close to the border with Algeria since December, when it attacked a border post, killing a member of the national guard.

The army intensified its search at the end of April, after landmines planted by the Islamists to protect their base in the border region wounded 16 members of the security forces.

Improvised explosive devices have wounded and killed several other members of the security forces since authorities intensified their hunt for the group in April.

Authorities have said the jihadist group is made up of several dozen Qaeda-linked militants, some of whom fought in the conflict in Mali.

The death of the soldiers comes as Tunisia's Islamist-dominated government faces protests following the killing of an opposition politician on Thursday.

It was the second political assassination since February.

Opposition groups have demanded the resignation of the government and have staged nightly protests, particularly in Tunis.

But Prime Minister Ali Larayedh firmly rejected these demands on Monday, calling a general election for December 17.

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