Tunisia's protests turn bloody

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Tunisia’s National Guard clashed with militants in the central Sidi Bouzid region on Wednesday, with fatalities on both sides, police and hospital sources told AFP.

At least eight Tunisian policemen and two militants were killed when they clashed during a raid by security forces in Sidi Bouzid in the south of the country, Reuters reports

The security sources and state television said on Wednesday that Ansar al-Sharia, one of the militant movements to emerge since the country’s 2011 uprising, was behind a string of attacks on security forces.

Officials say it has ties to al Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate.

Wednesday’s violence came just days after security forces killed 10 militants blamed for attacking Tunisian police patrols in a remote area near the Algerian border and killing two officers.

Ansar al-Sharia is just one of the hardline groups based in North Africa.

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Tunisia’s moderate Islamist-led government, two months ago, declared it a terrorist organisation after blaming it for murdering two opposition leaders.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh had said the group’s leaders had ties with other militant commanders in the region, saying it had profited from the chaos in neighbouring Libya to send fighters there to train and acquire weapons.

Ansar al-Sharia’s leader in Tunisia is a former al Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan, who is accused of inciting his followers to attack the U.S. embassy compound in Tunis in 2012.

Other militant groups operating in North Africa include Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa or MUJWA, which was scattered earlier this year by the French offensive in Mali.

MUJWA recently announced it was joining forces with another group led by veteran Algerian Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who allegedly masterminded the attack on Algeria’s Amenas gas plant in January where nearly 40 foreign contractors were killed.