Militants kill at least six police officers in western Tunisia

Patrol near Algeria border was ambushed, interior ministry says

Members of the Tunisian special forces stand guard outside the Ghriba Synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 2, 2018 during the first day of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue thought to be Africa's oldest. / AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID
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At least six police officers were killed in an attack in western Tunisia on Sunday.

The interior ministry said a national guard patrol "was hit in a landmine ambush that killed six agents", in the Ain Sultan area of Jendouba province bordering Algeria at 11.45am.

Ministry spokesman General Sufyan Al Zaq said the blast was a "terrorist attack" and that the assailants opened fire on the patrol after the mine exploded.

"Combing operations" were under way, he said.

An earlier report by the TAP state news agency put the death toll at nine, citing security sources.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but militants are known to operate in areas near the border with Algeria, which has been fighting the remnants of an extremist insurgency in the 1990s.

Tunisia has become a target for militants following the Arab uprisings in 2011. Attacks on security forces are not unusual in rural areas of the country, although Sunday's toll was the highest since 2015.

Three major attacks that year were all claimed by ISIS. Twenty-two people were killed and about 50 injured when three gunmen attacked tourists at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis on March 18, 2015. Three months later, on June 26, a gunman killed 38 people, most of them British tourists, in the resort town of Sousse.

The third attack targeted a bus carrying members of the presidential guard. Twelve members were killed when the bus was bombed in the capital on November 24.

A state of emergency imposed after that attack remains in place to give the government greater powers to dismantle militant networks.