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Tunisia closing in on terrorists behind Kef attack: Defense Ministry official - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Soldiers stand to attention as the coffin of fellow soldier Zouheir Alkahli passes by during his funeral in Douar Hicher, near the capital Tunis, on November 6, 2014. (Reuters/Anis Milli)

Soldiers stand to attention as the coffin of fellow soldier Zouheir Alkahli passes by during his funeral in Douar Hicher, near the capital Tunis, on November 6, 2014. (Reuters/Anis Milli)

Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—Tunisian security forces are closing in on the suspected Islamist militants who attacked a bus carrying Tunisian soldiers in the city of Kef close to the Algerian border on Wednesday, Defense Ministry spokesman Belhassan Ouselati told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Five Tunisian soldiers were killed in the attack and 10 others wounded. Tunisian security forces have engaged in a fierce crackdown on Islamist militant groups in the border region with Algeria since 2012, pledging to increase counterterror efforts following Wednesday’s attack in the run-up to landmark presidential elections set to be held on November 23.

Ouselati said that Tunisian security authorities have “sufficient intelligence” about the group behind this attack to track them down, pledging that the gunmen will not go unpunished.

Tunisia’s “crisis response unit” in charge of monitoring the security situation in the country pledged a major crackdown against extremist groups in the border region, according to Tunisia’s state-owned Agence Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).

Tunis condemned Wednesday’s attack in Kef as “cowardly and vile” and voiced solidarity with the country’s military and security institutions, the TAP report added, paying tribute to efforts made toward dismantling terrorist cells.

Security authorities foiled dozens of plans aiming to disrupt legislative elections held last month, a statement issued by the office of the prime minister said, adding that the presidential elections will similarly go ahead without any problems.

Tunisian caretaker President Moncef Marzouki visited soldiers wounded in the attack and declared Thursday a national day of mourning. He pledged that Tunisian security forces would ultimately win the war on terror thanks to the “alertness” of the Tunisian people and the sacrifices of its military.

The Tunisian Defense Ministry spokesman denied that the bus carrying the soldiers in the north-western city of Kef had been provided sufficient protection, adding that the government is seeking to improve and develop its intelligence apparatus to pre-empt future attacks.

Tunisian security and military units continued to sweep Kef and its environs on Thursday for militants, along with helicopter searches. Kef governorate, which directly borders Algeria, is made up of mountainous terrain interspersed with forested areas making it easy for extremist groups to hide out and avoid security detection.