Islamic State group reports Tunisian leader killed in Libya

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2015 1:36 PM

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — One of Tunisia's most wanted militants and a top field commander for the Islamic State group died fighting in Libya, the Tunisian government confirmed on Tuesday.

The Islamic State group posted a eulogy on a militant website for Ahmed al-Rouissi after he was killed in clashes around the Libyan city of Sirte — a stronghold for the Islamic State affiliate.

Tunisian Interior Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui told the state news agency that al-Rouissi's death had been confirmed through "scientific means" and in coordination with Libyan authorities.

There has been fighting around Sirte between IS militants and the Misrata-based 166th Battalion, which is loyal to the Libyan government in Tripoli.

Libya's internationally recognized parliament has been forced from the capital and meets in the eastern city of Tobruk. It is currently in talks with its Tripoli-based rival about forming a national unity government.

Al-Rouissi, 48, was considered the mastermind of a string of attacks carried out in Tunisia by the radical Ansar al-Shariah movement, including the 2013 assassinations of left-wing politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohammed Brahmi. Their deaths plunged Tunisia into a political crisis that eventually led to the resignation of the elected Islamist government.

Ansar al-Shariah founder Seifallah Ben Hassine, has been implicated in the September 2012 assault on the U.S. embassy in Tunis which resulted in severe property damage and the death of four protesters when security forces intervened.

Ben Hassine and Al-Rouissi fled to Libya where they began fighting under the banner of the Islamic State group, which already controls about a third of Syria and Iraq in a self-declared caliphate.

There are an estimated 3,000 Tunisians that have left the country to fight with extremist groups. Citing Tunisian Interior Ministry officials briefing the parliament on Tuesday, the state news agency said some 60 Tunisians had been killed so far in Syria.

"The greatest danger comes from Libya which is not just a transit country but one where terrorist groups have taken root and built training camps in many cities," said the report.

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Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.