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Tunisian standoff leaves 8 dead

Tunisia's National Guard stormed suspected militants in two houses in a seaside suburb of Tunis on Tuesday to end a daylong standoff, and seven radicals and one member of the security force were killed.

The firefight began Monday afternoon when National Guard anti-terrorist units surrounded a house believed to contain militants in the Raoued suburb, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui.

He described the militants as members of an ultraconservative sect of Islam, known as Salafis, who are increasingly at odds with the state.

Radical Islamists also have been implicated in the shooting deaths of two left-wing politicians in 2013.

In a final shootout Tuesday afternoon, seven militants and one member of the anti-terrorist unit were killed, a security official said. He did not say whether any of the radicals were arrested.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Hundreds of masked members of the anti-terror units flooded Raoued during the standoff, filling its streets with armoured vehicles. Snipers were seen on the roofs of the buildings around the besieged area.

Sahbi Jouini, a member of the law enforcement union, said the militants had been holed up in two adjacent houses, one of which was stormed by the masked anti-terror units early in the morning Tuesday.

After Tunisians overthrew their secular dictatorship in 2011, the conservative Salafi movement took a hostile attitude to the new post-revolutionary government for not being pious enough. Last year its largest such group, Ansar al-Shariah, was declared a terrorist organization.

Sandwiched between Algeria, birthplace of al-Qaida's North African branch, and Libya, a source of weapons following its civil war, Tunisia has had to deal with the rising threat of armed militants.

Nearly every month, there is news of a shootout between security forces and militants, many of whom have smuggled in weapons from Libya.

One of the main flashpoints has been a string of low mountains along the border with Algeria, where militants have been discovered. At least a dozen soldiers have been killed in clashes around Mount Chaambi in particular, near the city of Kasserine.

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