TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian policeman was killed during clashes with suspected Islamist fighters near the border with Algeria on Monday, sources said, stoking fears of the spread of militancy in the north African nation.
Security forces backed up by army helicopters fought a group of armed men, thought to be hardline Salafi Islamists, one resident of the nearby town of Kasrine told Reuters.
The violence was reported three days after police said they arrested two Islamists in a car packed with maps and explosive materials, about 30km (19 miles) away along the same border.
Secular parties in Tunisia have warned about the spread of hardline Islamists in the country since the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in a revolt that inspired the Arab Spring uprisings.
Western countries are also worried al Qaeda has been taking advantage of the turmoil across the region to strengthen its presence in north Africa and the Sahel.
“Anis el-Jlassi 27, died from a bullet wound after confrontations with Salafis at Bouchebka on the border with Algeria,” said Mohammed al-Seghir al-Hamzaoui, a hospital official in Kasrine.
Liberal groups and Salafis, who follow a puritanical form o0f Islam, have been competing for influence in the country now ruled by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, supported by two centre-left partners
The country, whose economy has been hit by euro zone woes, has been tense for two weeks as police fought with protesters seeking jobs and development in the town of Siliana. Islamists then clashed in Tunis last week with leftist union activists who had backed the protests.
Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Andrew Heavens