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article imageSuicide attackers hit outside US embassy in Tunis

By Kaouther Larbi (AFP)     Mar 6, 2020 in World

Suicide attackers struck outside the US embassy in the Tunisian capital on Friday, killing a police officer, wounding six other people and once again shaking a city repeatedly hit by jihadist violence.

The latest attack comes despite a state of emergency imposed in the North African nation in 2015 following a string of bloody assaults claimed by the Islamic State group.

An explosion at around midday rocked the Berges du Lac district, where the highly fortified embassy is located, causing panic among pedestrians and motorists.

"Two individuals targeted a security patrol... in the street leading to the American embassy," the interior ministry said in a statement.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Police at the scene said the assailants drove to the area on a motorcycle and detonated their explosive devices as they were approached by officers deployed at a roundabout leading to the embassy.

The two attackers died and one officer, identified as 52-year-old father of three Lieutenant Taoufik Mohammed El Nissaoui, died of his wounds.

Five more injured officers and a lightly wounded female civilian were in a stable state, Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi told journalists.

"It was a homemade explosive device and we are looking for those who helped make it," he said.

Suicide attack in Tunis
Suicide attack in Tunis

Local media reported police raids on two working-class neighbourhoods in northern Tunis.

Anti-terrorism prosecutors have opened an enquiry, spokesman Sofiene Sliti said, but no arrests had yet been made and the two attackers have not been officially identified.

"All security units are on high alert," the interior ministry said.

After Friday's blast, police dispatched reinforcements and forensic experts to the area, where body parts were strewn across the ground.

A helicopter buzzed over the Berges du Lac, a district protected round-the-clock by security forces.

"It's tough to have to go on working when your colleagues have been wounded," said a police officer at the scene.

Office worker Haykel Boukraa spoke of widespread panic.

"Our office is 300 metres from (the blast scene), but the explosion was so loud that the windows in our building shook," the 49-year-old told AFP.

"There was total panic," he said. "We didn't know if we should stay put or leave the office."

- Years of bloody attacks -

Earlier police had said one of the two assailants had tried to enter the embassy but was prevented by police.

But interior ministry spokesman Khaled Ayouni told AFP that "the police patrol was targeted, rather than the embassy", noting that the attack took place the day before the fourth anniversary of a major terrorist attack in Tunisia.

In March 2016, an attack on security installations in the town of Ben Guerdane on the Libyan border killed 13 security forces and seven civilians.

Police and forensic experts inspect the scene of a twin attack near the US embassy in Tunis
Police and forensic experts inspect the scene of a twin attack near the US embassy in Tunis

The US embassy said Friday in a statement on Twitter: "Emergency personnel are responding to an explosion that occurred near the U.S. Embassy in Tunis.

"Please avoid the area and monitor local media for updates."

Tunisia faced a rise in jihadist activity after its 2011 revolution, with attacks killing dozens of security personnel, civilians and foreign tourists.

While the security situation has significantly improved since a series of deadly attacks in 2015, Tunisia has maintained a state of emergency. Assaults on security forces have persisted, mainly in remote areas along the border with Algeria.

Before Friday, the last attacks were in June 2019, when twin bombings targeted a police station on the outskirts of Tunis and a police vehicle on the capital's main throughfare.

A civilian and a policeman were killed in those attacks, while seven were wounded.

In 2018, six members of Tunisia's security forces were killed when their cars were targeted by an explosive device near the border with Algeria.

That same year an unemployed female graduate blew herself up in the busy upmarket Avenue Habib Bourguiba in central Tunis, killing herself and wounding at least 26 people, mostly police officers.

But the deadliest year for jihadist violence since Tunisia's revolution was 2015.

An attack at the capital's Bardo museum in March killed 21 foreign tourists and a security guard. Just three months later, 38 foreign tourists were killed in a shooting rampage at the coastal resort of Sousse.

And that November, a bomb blast on a bus in central Tunis killed 12 presidential guards.

All three of the 2015 attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group.

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