TUNIS — Tunisia’s interior minister said security forces had killed three senior leaders of an insurgent group who were trying to establish an armed presence in the south of the country.
The men belonged to the group Oqba Ibn Nafa and were setting up a base in southern Tunisia to facilitate communication lines and weapons supplies from Libya to their group along the western border, Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli said Sunday evening at a news conference.
Such an attempt would expand the insurgency into new territory. Tunisian forces have struggled to contain the insurgency since it began in the western border region four years ago. Oqba Ibn Nafa has ties to Al Qaeda in North Africa and Algerian militants, and has clashed repeatedly with Tunisian Army and National Guard units.
The minister said recent operations, following one in March when the leader of Oqba Ibn Nafa was killed in northwestern Tunisia, had eliminated 90 percent of the group. Five men were killed Friday in the operation in Gafsa Province, Mr. Gharsalli said, including two Tunisians and one Algerian whom he described as important leaders.
The group was also involved in recruiting and sending volunteers to join militants in Libya, Syria and Iraq, he said.
“There are no Islamic State groups with any structure in Tunisia,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean there are not some members who have allegiances with Islamic State.”