TUNIS (Reuters) - Four Tunisian police were killed on Wednesday when a suspected Islamist militant detonated his suicide-bomb belt during a raid in the southern town of Tataouine, part of an operation aimed at preventing militant attacks in Tunis, authorities said.
Another militant was shot dead during the raid. Earlier, two more were killed in a raid in Ettadamen, a suburb of Tunis, the interior ministry said.
Security forces are engaged in a crackdown after four major attacks in the last year by Islamist militants. The assaults on a Tunis museum, a beach resort and a border town near Libya have badly damaged the vital tourism industry.
“Following intelligence after the raid on the terrorists meeting in Ettadamen, police raided a house in Tataouine, where they killed one militant, but a second detonated his bomb belt, killing four officers,” the interior ministry said.
Sixteen suspects were also arrested in the Tunis raid, and rifles, grenades and ammunition were captured.
“The terrorists came from different parts of the country and gathered in the capital, particularly Ettadhamoun, to prepare synchronized attacks,” an earlier statement said.
Authorities say more than 4,000 Tunisians have left to fight for Islamist militant groups in Iraq and Syria, and some have returned to training camps run by Islamic State across the border in neighbouring Libya.
Western partners are helping to train Tunisian forces in border protection to halt jihadists returning from Libya. Attacks on the Tunis Bardo museum and a Sousse beach resort last year were carried out by gunmen trained in Libyan jihadist camps.
Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Janet Lawrence