The Islamic State is seeking the creation of an emirate in Tunisia the country's Prime Minister Habib Essid said after extremists launched a dawn raid on the town of Ben Guerdane on the country's border with Libya.
Security forces in the town are clearing weapons and searching buildings in Ben Guerdane after 53 people were killed in clashes following an IS (Isis/Daesh) assault. Authorities in Tunisia have said 35 extremists, seven civilians and 11 members of the security forces were killed in fighting after militants launched an attack from Libya at 4am on Monday (7 March).
Radio Tataouine has reported that eight militants were detained by Tunisian security forces in the town in the aftermath of the attack.
Speaking in the wake of the of the clashes, Essid said: "The purpose of the attack was to disrupt the security situation in our country and establish a Daesh emirate in Ben Guerdane".
"But thanks to all the efforts, to the cooperation between our internal security forces, the reaction was strong and fast," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.
President Beji Caid Essebsi said extremists now pose a security threat to all of Tunisia. "This is an unprecedented attack, planned and organized. Its goal was probably to take control of this area and to announce a new emirate. The majority of Tunisians are now in a state of war against barbarism," Essebsi said.
The death toll from the clashes rose throughout the day, amid reports security forces had surrounded one house inhabited by a wanted terrorist, killing two militants inside. Tunisian military reinforcements, backed by helicopters have been deployed to Ben Guerdane.
British troops are set to be deployed to Tunisia to secure the country's 285mile-long border with Libya, which has become a refuge for the IS.
Libyan-trained Tunisian militants have become Tunis' primary security concern. One week ago five were killed in Ben Guerdane after security forces discovered a weapons cache in the town.
Islamists trained at IS and al-Qaeda camps in Libya were able to launch a series of attacks in Tunisia last year including on the Bardo Museum and the Sousse beach massacre in which 30 Britons were killed.
At the end of February, IS militants captured by militias aligned with Libya's Western-backed government in Tripoli said they were planning a large scale assault on Ben Guerdane, Tunisia Live reported. The town is a hub for illegal cross-border trade and the trafficking of militants.
On 19 February US air strikes on Qasr Talil near the western Libyan town of Sabratha killed at least 30 Daesh fighters. According to reports the majority of the militants were Tunisian. The bombing targeted Tunisian national Noureddine Chouchane, who helped organise the Sousse beach massacre and the Bardo Museum attack. Two Serbian diplomats, also held hostage, were believed to have been killed in the same air strikes.