TUNIS Tunisian police killed two Islamist militants during clashes near the Algerian border and seized weapons and bombs, the government said on Friday, two weeks after Islamists attacked a government minister's home in one of their boldest attacks.
Tunisian forces are engaged in a crackdown on the hardline Islamist group Ansar al Sharia and launched a major assault this year on the Chaambi mountains in the west, close to the Algerian border, where Islamist militants have taken refuge.
Clashes broke out on Thursday night in the northwest of the city of Jendouba, Interior Ministry spokesman Ali Aroui said.
"Our forces killed two members of the terrorist group in Jendouba in exchange of fire... Tunisian police seized weapons, bombs and military costumes during the confrontation with Islamist militants", Aroui added.
Four police were killed last month when Islamists opened fire on the interior minister's family home in the city of Kasserine. The minister Lofti Ben Jedou was not at home during the attack.
In a statement released on Friday, al Qaeda's North African wing, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has ties to Ansar al Sharia, claimed responsibility for the attack on the minister's home and vowed to kill him.
"The criminal escaped this time and will not survive the next time," AQIM said.
AQIM also called for the support of Muslim clerics in "the war against the infidels and secularists" in the region.
Ansar al Sharia were listed in January as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States. They were one of the hardline Islamist movements to emerge after Tunisia's 2011 "Arab Spring" revolt ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
Led by a veteran of Afghanistan's conflicts, the group was blamed for storming the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012.
The North African state's political transition has advanced since the uprising. But Tunisian authorities are worried about spillover from neighboring Libya where turmoil has allowed Islamist militants to gain a foothold.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)