Tunisia: Alleged killer of Chokri Belaid dead

At least 23 militants were killed in a firefight with Tunisian forces in the capital

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The suspected murderer of Tunisian opposition figure Chokri Belaid is among 23 militants killed during a police raid outside Tunis, the state news agency TAP said on Tuesday.

Citing Deputy Public Prosecutor Sofien Selliti, the state news agency said the body of Kamel Gadhgadhi was identified after the heavy firefight with Islamists holed up in a building outside the capital.

The interior ministry said 23 “terrorist elements” were killed in the clash, which began on Monday afternoon and lasted until mid-morning on Tuesday.

Special units of the National Guard surrounded the building in the Tunis suburb of Raoued on Monday after a tip-off that “heavily armed” militants were inside the house, officials said. The gunmen refused to give themselves up.

Witnesses at the scene said they heard the militants firing automatic weapons, before the security forces announced the “victory” of their operation.

Police had closed off access to the area, which lies not far from a popular beach, an AFP photographer reported.

Since the 2011 revolution, Tunisia has been rocked by sporadic violence linked to militant Islamists who were suppressed under the regime of ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisians are preparing to mark the first anniversary on Thursday of the murder of opposition politician Belaid.

On Nov. 6, 2013, Belaid was gunned down, allegedly by Gaghgadhi, a member of radical group Ansar al-Sharia, as he was leaving his house in Tunis’ neighborhood of el-Menzah.

His assassination pushed Tunisia into a wave of political unrest, with many people blaming the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party of masterminding the assassination as part of an alleged campaign to eliminate the opposition.

Last year, the government said the fingerprints of Gadhgadhi were identified on a car used for the transport of weapons.

“Kamel Gadhgadhi as well as Ahmed Rouissi and Ezzeddine Abdellaoui, involved in the assassination of Chokri Belaid, are also suspected to have participated in weapons smuggling,” Interior Ministry’s official spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui told the state news agency.

“These suspects provided support to the terrorist cell holed up in the region of Jebel Chaambi,” the ministry’s spokesman said.

Also last year, around 20 members of the security forces were killed during operations targeting a group of Islamist militants in the Chaambi mountains on the border with Algeria.

Relatives of Belaid are to hold a press conference on Thursday followed by a candlelit vigil in Tunis to commemorate the anniversary of his death.

Activists are also planning a rally on Saturday to mark his funeral one year ago, which turned into a massive rally against the Islamist-led government.