CAIRO, Egypt – At least 44 people were killed Monday in the eastern Tunisian town of Ben Guerdane, close to the Libyan border, in one of the deadliest clashes seen so far between government forces and extremists, officials said.
Seven civilians, including a 12-year-old girl, were among the dead, a hospital spokesman said.
Gunmen targeted a police station and military facilities at dawn, the interior ministry said, and a 7 p.m. curfew has been ordered the area until further notice.
In total, at least 28 militants were killed along with at least 9 members of Tunisian security forces. Seven other militants were arrested, the ministry told NBC News in a statement.
Tunisia's fledgling democratic government is especially worried about the presence of ISIS in Libya after dozens of tourists were killed in extremist attacks in the country last year.
France's foreign ministry condemned the attacks and identified the gunmen as "terrorists coming from Libyan territory."
Hospital official Abdelkrim Sakroud said on state radio that three corpses had been brought in, including that of the 12-year-old girl, according to The Associated Press.
Last week, Tunisian security forces killed five heavily-armed men in an hours-long firefight after they crossed into the country from Libya with a larger group. Tunisian security forces had been placed on alert based on "precise information" of possible border infiltrations following a Feb. 19 U.S. raid on an IS camp near the Libyan town of Sabratha, not far from the Tunisian border, the statement said.
Tunisia was targeted last year by three attacks that left 70 people dead and were claimed by ISIS. Tunisian authorities say the attackers had been trained in Libya.