March 9, 2016 / 11:05 AM / in 2 years

Tunisian troops kill 10 militants near Libyan border after Monday raid

A police officer keeps watch near a cemetery where the bodies of soldiers and civilians who were killed during Monday's attack on army and police posts by Islamist fighters will be buried in the town of Ben Guerdan, Tunisia, near the Libyan border March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian troops have killed 10 Islamist militants around Ben Guerdan on the Libyan border after an Islamic State attack on Monday that killed at least 55 people.

In military raids late on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning around the town, one soldier was also killed. Two of the militants were killed after being tracked to a construction site, the defense and interior ministries said.

About 50 Islamic State militants launched a dawn attack on army and police posts in Ben Guerdan on Monday, Tunisia’s government said, in one of the insurgent group’s largest assaults on Tunisia. The army killed 36 of the attackers.

Twelve soldiers and seven civilians were also killed.

“Most of the attackers were Tunisians, and the majority of them were already in Ben Guerdan except for a few who infiltrated from Libya or maybe crossed over at the Ras Jdir border point,” government spokesman Khaled Chaouket said.

Prime Minister Habib Essid blamed the attack on Islamic State, which has grown in strength just over the border in Libya, taking advantage of the chaos there to expand its presence and draw in foreign recruits.

Since its 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has moved toward democracy. But it has also been battling a growing Islamist militancy at home and more than 3,000 Tunisians have left to fight for Islamic State and other jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Tunisian security officials say Tunisians are taking more and more command positions in Islamic State in Libya and Tunisian fighters are returning from Iraq and Syria to join the group there.

A U.S. air strike last month on the Libyan town of Sabratha near Tunisia’s border targeted a Tunisian Islamic State commander. At least 40 militants were killed in that strike on an Islamic State training base.

Growing security turmoil in Libya, where two rival governments and armed factions vie for control, has allowed Islamic State to thrive just over Tunisia’s border, and Western governments are considering air strikes and special forces operations against the group there.

Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Louise Ireland

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