(FOX NEWS) — One of the deadliest clashes seen so far between Tunisian forces and extremist attackers left at least 53 people — including 35 terrorists — dead Monday near Tunisia’s Border with Libya, the government said.
The fighting in the border town of Ben Guerdane in eastern Tunisia comes amid increasing concern that violent extremism in Libya could destabilize the region.
“This is an unprecedented attack, planned and organized, and whose goal was probably to take control of this area and to announce a new emirate,” said Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi.
The government closed its two border crossings with Libya following the attack that left 35 terrorists, seven civilians and 11 members of Tunisia’s security forces dead, the Tunisian interior and defense ministries said in a statement.
A 12-year-old girl was among those who were killed.
Libya’s chaos, five years after the uprising that led to the ouster and killing of longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, has allowed the Islamic State group to take control of several cities. The divided country is ruled by two parliaments: an internationally recognized body based in the eastern city of Tobruk and a rival government, backed by Islamist-allied militias, that controls the capital, Tripoli.
Tunisia’s fledgling democratic government is especially worried about the presence of ISIS in Libya after dozens of tourists were killed in extremist attacks in Tunisia last year.
At dawn Monday, gunmen targeted a police station and military facilities in Ben Guerdane, Interior Ministry spokesman Yasser Mosbah told The Associated Press. A night curfew has been ordered in Ben Guerdane until further notice.