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Tunisian man 'blows himself up' in police chase

The two suspected militants were tracked down by police in Magroun [Anadolu illustrative image[

Date of publication: 20 March, 2018

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A Tunisian man blew himself up during a pursuit near the Tunisia-Libya border that followed a gunfight with police.

A Tunisian man "blew himself up" as he was being chased Monday by police in a border region near Libya and his companion was shot dead, the interior ministry said.

Spokesman Khalifa Chibani told AFP the National Guard had received information concerning "two male suspects" in the southern Ben Guerdane region.

They tracked them down in the Magroun area, a desert zone near a nature reserve, and tried to arrest them but "one of them blew himself up," he said.

Chibani said both suspects wore explosive vests, and had currency from chaos-wracked Libya, grenades and ammunition. "It is probable that they were planning to go to Libya," he told AFP.

He said they could be two militants sought by authorities over connections to the Jund al-Khilafa group, Arabic for "Soldiers of the Caliphate", which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.

One of the suspects, he said, was armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and had opened fire on the police.

After an exchange of fire, security forces "shot dead the second terrorist", the interior ministry said, adding that the National Guard and the army were searching the area.

He said an investigation had been opened and would determine if the first suspect who blew himself up had activated his explosives vest or if it blew up in the exchange of fire with the security forces.

Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia has faced a militant Islamist insurgency responsible for the deaths of dozens of soldiers, police, civilians and foreign tourists.

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, when a suicide bombing in Tunis claimed by the IS killed 12 presidential guards.

Monday's incident comes after a series of deadly operations in 2015 and two years after an IS offensive on the town of Ben Guerdane.

On March 7, 2016, militants launched brazen attacks on the town that killed 13 members of the security forces and seven civilians and also left 55 fighters dead.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed this month marked the anniversary of the Ben Guerdane attacks and said he wanted to "consecrate March 7 as a national day of victory against terrorism" and Ben Guerdane as "the town of victory against terrorism."

Thousands of Tunisians have joined militant groups fighting in Iraq, Syria and neighbouring Libya.

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