Tunisia declares state of emergency after deadly bus blast
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Tunisia declared a nationwide state of emergency and a curfew in the capital Tunis on Tuesday after at least 12 people were killed in a bomb attack on a presidential guard bus in the third major attack claimed by the Islamic State group this year.
Another 17 were wounded in the attack, according to an interior ministry statement.
The blast struck as presidential guards were boarding the bus on the capital’s Mohamed V Avenue to be taken to the presidential palace on the outskirts of the city, security sources said.
"I was on Mohamed V Avenue, about to get into my car, when there was a huge explosion. I saw the bus blow up. There were bodies and blood everywhere," witness Bassem Trifi told reporters at the scene.
Mohamed V is a major boulevard usually packed with traffic and pedestrians, with several hotels and banks.
A government official said initial investigations showed the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber wearing a backpack who blew himself as he got onto the bus.
“According to the preliminary details, the attacker was wearing a bag on his back. He had on a coat and was wearing headphones. He blew himself up just getting into the door of the bus with military explosives,” Hichem Gharbi, a presidential security official, told local Shems FM radio.
The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted online on Wednesday.
It said a jihadist identified as Abu Abdullah al-Tunisi carried out the attack after infiltrating the bus.
State of emergency
President Beji Caid Essebsi, who cancelled a trip to Switzerland planned for Wednesday, declared a state of emergency throughout the country and a curfew in the capital.
"As a result of this painful event, this great tragedy... I proclaim a state of emergency for 30 days under the terms of law, and a curfew in greater Tunis from 9 pm until 5 am tomorrow," he said in a brief televised address.
Troops and armed police were seen patrolling the city streets and setting up checkpoints searching vehicles and pedestrians in the hours following the attack, while security was stepped up at Tunis international airport.
The United States condemned the attack and offered to help the Tunisian authorities with their investigation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry "was proud to stand with Tunisian leaders earlier this month in Tunis and reaffirm our countries' extensive economic, governance, and security cooperation", a spokesman for his department said.
The UN Security Council urged its members to help bring the perpetrators to justice, adding that "no terrorist attack can reverse the path of Tunisia towards democracy and its efforts towards economic recovery".
Challenge of extremists
Islamist extremists have become a major challenge for Tunisia, a small North African country that was hailed as a blueprint for democratic change and success story in the region after the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 ousted autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The country has already suffered two major terror attacks this year. A militant killed 38 foreigners at a beach hotel in June, while gunmen killed 21 tourists at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March. The IS group claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Tunisia has had free elections and is operating under a new constitution and a broad political consensus that has allowed secular and Islamist parties to overcome a crisis that threatens to overturn their young democracy.
But several thousand Tunisians have also left to fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya with the IS group and other militant groups, and some have threatened to carry out attacks at home.
The army has also been fighting against another Islamist militant group in the mountains near the Algerian border.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)