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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Al Qaeda-linked group claims attack on Tunisian soldiers

Six members of the national guard were killed while patrolling border with Algeria

Mourners carry the coffin of killed Sgt Arbi Guizani, one of six security Tunisian officers killed on Sunday, at his funeral in Tunis on July 9, 2018. Fethi Belaid / AFP
Mourners carry the coffin of killed Sgt Arbi Guizani, one of six security Tunisian officers killed on Sunday, at his funeral in Tunis on July 9, 2018. Fethi Belaid / AFP

A Tunisian affiliate of Al Qaeda said it carried out the attack that killed six members of Tunisia's national guard near the border with Algeria on Sunday.

Three other members of the border patrol were injured in the attack, according to national guard spokesman Col Houssemeddine Jbabli.

Tunisia's interior ministry said the patrol was hit by a landmine explosion in the Ain Sultan area of Jendouba province on Sunday morning.

A militant group linked to Al Qaeda, the Uqba bin Nafi battalion, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE extremist monitoring agency. A statement from the group, which has claimed previous attacks on security forces, said its fighters detonated an explosive to target Tunisians seen as "agents of the West".

The remote mountainous border region where the attack took place is known to be used as a base by extremist groups.

Tunisia has become a target for militants since longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in an uprising in 2011. Attacks on security forces are not unusual in rural areas of the country, although Sunday's toll was the highest since 2015.

The UAE condemned the attack as a "cowardly act of terrorism aimed at destabilising Tunisia's security and stability", in statement released on the state news agency, Wam, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.

Tunisian Interior Minister Ghazi Jribi vowed to avenge the deaths of the soldiers.

"We will avenge our martyrs and we will relentlessly pursue the terrorists into their last hiding places," said Mr Jribi, who was sent to the area by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed to supervise the search for the attackers.

"The fight against terrorism is a long-term battle, but this phenomenon has no future in Tunisia," he said.

The last major attack on Tunisian security forces was in November 2015. Twelve members of the presidential guard were killed when their bus was bombed in the capital, Tunis.

The extremist group ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing, as well as two shooting attacks earlier that year in which more than 50 people were killed, most of them tourists.