Tunisian security forces have shot dead three Islamic State-linked militants suspected of involvement in the grisly killings of shepherds in the restive Kasserine region, the interior ministry said Wednesday.
"Three terrorists were killed overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday," National Guard spokesman Houssemeddine Jebabli told AFP.
"We seized Kalashnikov rifles, explosive belts, grenades, explosives and ammunition."
He said the three militants, members of the Islamic State's (IS) Tunisia branch Jund al-Khila fa, were involved "in the killing and beheading of shepherds in the area, as well as attempts to target security forces and the army".
He said the jihadists, named Houssem al-Thlithi, Mohamed Nasser al-Mbarki and Mondher al-Gharssali, had been shot dead in the Mount Salloum region.
On Saturday, jihadist monitoring group SITE said IS had claimed responsibility for the beheading of Tunisian shepherd Mohamed Lakhdhar Makhloufi, whose body was found last month in nearby Mount Mghilla.
In 2015, 16-year-old Mabrouk Soltani was beheaded in nearby Mount Mghilla by a group of extremists as his 14-year-old cousin watched.
Jund al-Khilafa (Arabic for Soldiers of the Caliphate), claimed responsibility, accusing the boy of informing the army on their movements.
Two years later, Mabrouk's brother Khalifa was abducted and killed in the same area, in an attack also claimed by IS.
The three militants killed overnight were involved in all the murders, Jebabli said.
Tunisian security forces regularly conduct search operations in the mountainous areas near the border with Algeria to hunt down IS- and Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists.
Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia has experienced multiple jihadist attacks that have killed dozens of members of the security forces and 59 foreign tourists.
The country has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, when an IS-claimed suicide bombing in Tunis killed 12 presidential guards.