Tunisia’s government has increased security operations after a suicide bomber blew himself up in the tourist resort of Sousse last month, the first such assault in more than a decade.
“The security forces killed one terrorist, wounded two others and arrested the rest of the group after a confrontation with militants hiding in a house in [the city of] Kebeli,” said Mohamed Ali Aroui, a spokesman for the interior ministry.
He later said eight people had been arrested and five cars seized, including one that he said was rigged up with a bomb.
Two members of the security forces were wounded during the clashes which took place at dawn on Tuesday.
Since an uprising ousted leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali nearly three years ago, Tunisia has faced a widening split over the role of political Islam in one of the most secular countries in the Muslim world.
But the assassination of two secular opposition leaders this year by Islamist militants sparked protests by opposition parties which demanded that the ruling moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, resign because it was too soft on hard-liners.
The government earlier this year began a crackdown on Ansar Al-Shari’a, a local militant group authorities say is linked to the local Al-Qaeda wing.
Tunisian authorities are also worried about spillover from the turmoil in neighbouring Libya, where the weak central government is struggling to contain rival militias, Islamist gunmen and former fighters.
As well as Ansar Al-Shari’a, North Africa is home to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other militants such as those led by veteran Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who claimed responsibility for the attack on Algeria’s Amenas gas plant in January.