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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) Special forces units from Tunisia's National Guard killed a suspected militant and arrested eight others in an early morning operation Tuesday deep in the desert south of the country, the Interior Ministry announced.

Following a failed suicide bomb attack on a hotel late last month, security forces have been carrying out operations around the country seeking out terrorist groups.

Tunisia is struggling with a democratic transition after it kicked off the Arab Spring by overthrowing its dictator in 2011. Since then, there has been a rise in extremist Islamic groups with al-Qaida links.

The operation represents the first in the area of Kebili, deep in the southern deserts and the statement said security forces descended on a house where they fought with the "suspected terrorists."

Authorities seized five vehicles, 30 mobile phones, a grenade, computers and a truck that was to be rigged with explosives, the statement added.

Local press said the operation was to seek out Seifallah Ben Hassine the leader of the extremist Ansar al-Shariah movement who has links to al-Qaida and believed to have organized an assault on the U.S. embassy last year.

Past clashes with militants have been mostly further north, in the mountains along the Algerian border.