Tunis - Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said on Friday it was responsible for a recent attack on the home of Tunisia's interior minister that killed four policemen, the first such claim in the country.
“A group of lions... went to cut off the head of the criminal Lotfi Ben Jeddou at his home... and God allowed them to kill a number of his personal guards,” an AQIM statement said.
The statement, posted on a jihadist Internet forum, said the May 27 attack on the house in the western border region of Kasserine, had also wounded other guards and that weapons had been seized.
It added that Jeddou, who was not in the house, “got away this time, but he won't the next.”
And it said that “entering into open war against Islam and its partisans to please the United States, France or Algeria, will cost dearly.”
Meanwhile, the interior ministry said two jihadists were killed by national guardsmen during an operation on Friday in the Jendouba region to the north, and that other “terrorists” were being hunted.
Several militants and members of the security forces were killed in Jendouba in February and March.
Kasserine is situated at the foot of Mount Chaambi on a range bordering Algeria.
Since late 2012, security forces have been battling dozens of militants hiding out in the remote area.
Authorities have said all along that the militants are linked to al-Qaeda but, until now, jihadists have not confirmed that.
But the AQIM statement said the army “has been conducting military operations against our militants in Mount Chaambi, which forced the lions of Islam to strike a military column.”
Last year, more than 20 security personnel were killed in what the government says were “terrorism-related incidents”.
And two opposition politicians were assassinated in separate attacks that plunged the country into a political crisis.
In April, Tunis designated Mount Chaambi and neighbouring mountain districts a closed military zone, and warned of the growing threat posed by “terrorist organisations” based there.
Tunisia has also been wary of the growing influence of Islamists in neighbouring Libya, and fears that lawlessness could spill across the border.