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May 11, 2:27 PM EDT

Tunisia police kill 2 'dangerous terrorists,' arrest 16

AP Photo
AP Photo/Hassene Dridi

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- Elite Tunisian police squads killed what authorities described as two "dangerous armed terrorists" and arrested 16 others in raids Wednesday outside the capital to abort plans for "synchronized attacks."

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the suspects came from around Tunisia. They had gathered in the area around Menihla, a working class area about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the capital Tunis, and in the locality of Ettadhamoun, which adjoins Menihla.

The ministry did not elaborate on the foiled attack plans, nor the identity of those killed and arrested. However, it said Kalashnikov rifles, pistols, grenades and ammunition were recovered in the operation.

In a separate action in southern Tunisia, four security forces were killed when an extremist, hiding in a house and cornered, set off an explosive belt, the Interior Ministry said. A second suspected extremist was killed in a search in Tataouine, near the Libyan border.

The operation in the south occurred at the same time as security forces were hunting down extremists near the capital.

The area of Menihla is known as a gathering place for religious extremists. The suicide bomber who killed 12 presidential guards in downtown Tunis last November was a 26-year-old street vendor from Menihla.

Tunisia, which is wedged between Algeria and Libya, has been battling extremist violence as it tries to move forward in a fragile economic and political environment.

Two brutal attacks last year, on a luxury beach resort in Sousse and the noted Bardo Museum, together killed some 60 people, mainly foreign tourists. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.

For two weeks in March, security forces battled armed groups, some crossing the border from Libya, who attacked security and military sites in the border town of Ben Guerdane, with the alleged goal of creating an "emirate." Security forces killed 36 attackers and lost 12 agents while seven civilians were killed.

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