Tunisia Hits Islamist Mountain Hideouts After Killings

Tunisian aircraft struck the mountain hideouts of al-Qaeda-linked militants accused of killing eight soldiers last week, amid accusations that authorities have failed to confront radical Islamists.

Bir Ouled Nasrallah and Ras Ethour near Mount Chaambi, in the western Kasserine province on the border with Algeria, were bombed at around 5:30 a.m., Mosaique FM radio reported today. Tunisian ground troops also battled militants in the area, Agence France-Presse said.

The fighting marks an intensification of a campaign that began after the fatal shooting of a National Guardsman in December, and follows the deaths of eight soldiers found in the area on July 30. Five of the corpses were mutilated.

Tunisia’s moderate Islamist government is facing calls for its resignation in rallies sparked by the July 25 assassination of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi, the second killing of a secular politician this year.

The Tunisian General Labor Union, the nation’s largest with at least 500,000 members, said it would be “forced to consider” options if authorities fail to agree a new government of technocrats within a week, according to a statement on its website. It didn’t give further details.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh has rejected calls for the ruling coalition to step down and has vowed that it will fulfill its mandate and present a new constitution this month. He has also proposed general elections in December.

Brahmi and Chukri Beleid, another secular opposition leader assassinated in February, were killed with the same weapon by a radical Islamist named as Boubaker Hakim, according to the government. Beleid’s death led to the downfall of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, undermining the transition to democracy in the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring.

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