TUNIS (Reuters) - One of Tunisia’s most wanted men, a senior commander of Islamic State militants in Libya, has been killed fighting with Libyan forces near the city of Sirte, Tunisian security sources said on Tuesday.
The death of Tunisian militant Ahmed Rouissi, who was fighting in Libya’s Islamic State ranks, confirms the growing importance of foreign fighters in the Libyan conflict, where two rival governments and armed forces battle for control.
Western governments and Libya’s North African neighbors are increasingly worried about Islamist militants, especially Islamic State allies, extending their foothold in the chaotic country just across the Mediterranean from Europe.
“According to the information we have, we can say Rouissi has been killed in the most recent fighting in Sirte,” a Tunisian security source said.
Libya is in chaos with two rival governments - one internationally recognized, the other set up in Tripoli after its forces took over the capital - that are fighting for control four years after a civil war ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
In the turmoil, militants allied to Islamic State this year have claimed a string of high-profile attacks targeting foreigners, including an assault on a luxury hotel in Tripoli, the storming of oilfields and kidnapping of oil workers.
Rouissi was a top member of Tunisia’s Ansar al-Sharia extremist group branded as terrorists by Washington.
Tunisian officials believe he was the mastermind in the murders of two Tunisian opposition leaders in 2013 that plunged the country into crisis.
He later joined Islamic State in Libya and had been running training and recruitment operations with other foreign fighters there, according to the Tunisian security source.
Tunisians make up one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, but more recently militants have been sending jihadis to take part in the conflict in Tunisia’s North African neighbor Libya.
Tunisia also said on Tuesday it had dismantled a recruiting cell sending jihadis to fight in Libya and arrested dozens in part of tighter security and border controls to counter Islamist militants.
“Security officers and the army arrested ten terrorists trying to sneak into Libya to join the armed groups in Libya,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The communique said security forces also dismantled four terrorist cells that were recruiting for Libya and arrested 22 more suspects in those operations.
Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Patrick Markey and Tom Heneghan