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Tunisia sentences 16 to death over attacks in 2016 by Islamic State affiliate

Attacks in Ben Guerdane left 13 members of the security forces and seven civilians dead, along with 55 attackers
Tunisian special forces stand guard in Ben Guerdane during the clashes in 2016 (AFP)

A Tunisian court sentenced 16 people to death in the first judgements against fighters involved in 2016 attacks near the Libyan border that left scores dead, media reported on Saturday.

A total of 96 people were accused in the trial relating to the March 2016 events that saw the town of Ben Guerdane become the stage of a bloody battle as members of Islamic State's (IS) Libya branch staged a series of deadly attacks.

The court, which is specialised in terrorism offences, handed 16 of the defendants Tunisia's toughest sentence, though the country has imposed a moratorium on capital punishment since 1991.

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Other defendants were handed sentences ranging from four years to life in prison, while a small but unspecified number of defendants were acquitted, the reports said.

The prosecution said it would appeal, AFP reported.

Following the attacks in Ben Guerdane, the Tunisian authorities said they had thwarted an attempt by IS to establish a foothold within the country.

The attacks killed 13 members of the security forces and seven civilians. In addition, 55 attackers were killed. 

Following the 2011 revolution that toppled longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia saw a surge in attacks across the country.

Many Tunisians also travelled to Syria or Iraq to join the IS or other similar groups.

The security situation has greatly improved in recent years, but Tunisian forces continue to hunt suspected fighters in parts of the country.