Islamist fighters attacked army and police barracks in the Tunisian town of Ben Guerdan near the Libyan border on Monday and 13 militants, five civilians and a soldier were killed in the clashes before troops regained control.
The Interior Ministry warned people to stay in their homes as gunfire erupted in the centre of the southern town during the early morning attack. Bodies of dead militants lay in the street near the army barracks, witnesses said.
“I saw a lot of militants at dawn, they were running with their Kalashnikovs,” Hussein, a local resident, told Reuters by telephone. “They said they were Islamic State and they came to target the army and the police.”
An army spokesman said soldiers had killed 13 militants and arrested six after they attacked military and police posts. Hospital sources said at least five civilians had died and one soldier.
Authorities sealed off the nearby beach resort town of Djerba, a popular destination for foreign and local tourists, according to TAP state news agency.
Tunisia has built a trench along its border, worried about spillover from Libya where Islamic State militants have expanded their presence, and Western military advisers are training Tunisian border forces.
Islamist militants trained in Libya carried out several attacks on Tunisia last year, including on the Tunis Bardo museum and a Sousse beach hotel targeting foreign tourists.