Tunisia police kill three militants in raid near Algeria border

TUNIS Mon Mar 17, 2014 9:52am EDT

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia police shot and killed three suspected Islamist militants and arrested six others in a raid near the Algerian border, the Tunisian government said on Monday.

Clashes broke out on Monday morning when security forces raided a house in northwest Jendouba, where last month gunmen disguised as police had killed three officers and a civilian in an attack.

"Our special forces killed three terrorists including two Tunisians and another, who is likely an Algerian, and arrested six others linked to this group," Interior Ministry spokesman Ali Aroui told a news conference.

Algerian troops over the weekend killed seven militants who had crossed over from the Tunisian side of the border. A small group of Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda have been using Tunisia's Chambi mountains as a refuge.

Since Tunisia's 2011 uprising, security forces have been battling militants from the hardline Islamist movement Ansar al Sharia, which the United States in January listed as a foreign terrorist organization.

Aroui said security forces found weapons and an explosive belt in the house after the raid. Two security force officers were also wounded.

In a separate operation, police forces exchanged fire with Islamist militants in a car refused to stop at a checkpoint in Sidi Bouzid town, south of Tunis.

One of the Arab world's most secular countries, Tunisia has progressed in its transition to democracy after the revolt, with a new constitution praised for its modernity and elections are scheduled for this year.

But Islamist militant violence is one of the main challenges for the new caretaker government. Last month, police killed seven militants armed with suicide bomb vests and explosives in a raid north of the capital.

Ansar al-Sharia, led by a veteran of Afghanistan's conflicts, was blamed for storming the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012 and has ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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