TUNIS, Tunisia – At least six soldiers in Tunisia's national guard were killed Sunday in an apparent attack by an armed group near the Algerian border, and the country's interior minister vowed the dead would be avenged.
A national guard spokesman, Col. Houssemeddine Jbabli, told The Associated Press that six national guard members were killed and three were wounded. The country's official news agency, TAP, put the number of dead at nine. In a brief statement, Tunisian Interior Ministry attributed the deaths to a mine explosion.
A militant group linked to Al-Qaida, the Uqba bin Nafi battalion, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE extremist monitoring agency. Uqba bin Nafi said its fighters detonated an explosive to target Tunisians seen as "agents of the West. " The claim could not immediately be verified.
The attack took place in the Ghardimaou region, a remote mountainous area in western Tunisia. Jihadis are known to use the mountainous border region as a base.
Citing a security official on the scene, TAP said the nine were on a patrol in two vehicles and a grenade was thrown at the first vehicle.
An exchange of gunfire followed, TAP said. It was not immediately clear how many attackers there might have been or whether there were any casualties among them.
Interior Minister Ghazi Jribi was sent to the area by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed to supervise the search for the attackers.
"We will avenge our martyrs and we will relentlessly pursue the terrorists into their last hiding places," Jribi said. "The fight against terrorism is a long-term battle, but this phenomenon has no future in Tunisia."
Tunisia was the target of deadly attacks by Islamic radicals that killed dozens of people at a beach resort and the country's leading museum in 2015. The security threat appeared to have lessened since then.
Following Sunday's incident, the culture ministry said all artistic and cultural events scheduled for Sunday were to be postponed.