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Female suicide bomber targets police in central Tunis

Fethi Belaid, AFP | A picture taken on October 29, 2018, shows police and firemen gathering at the site of a suicide attack in the centre of the Tunisian capital Tunis.

A woman blew herself up in the centre of the Tunisian capital Monday, wounding 20 people including 10 police officers in an explosion that breaks a period of calm after dozens died in militant attacks three years ago.

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The 30-year-old woman set off the blast just before 2pm in the Tunisian capital's popular Habib Bourguiba avenue, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Sofiene Zaag.

The bomber is said to "come from Mahdia", a coastal town in the central-eastern part of the country 200 kilometres from Tunis, Sébastien Boussois, an international relations researcher, told FRANCE 24. According to Boussois, the attack was allegedly carried out "with a grenade".

Local radio said that ten police officers were among the injured, and ten civilians. Apart from the bomber, it said, there have been no further reported deaths.

Police were cordoning off the area near the capital’s landmark Municipal Theatre. Ambulances could be heard rushing to the scene. Shops lowered their shutters as panic gripped passersby.

An AFP photographer saw the bomber's body, apparently mostly intact, lying on the ground under one of the neatly-trimmed box trees that line the avenue. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The interior ministry, in a statement, identified the assailant as a 30-year-old woman with no known extremist affiliations, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Shortly before the blast, a small group of demonstrators had held a protest in the avenue against the killing near Tunis last week of a teenager by a customs agent.

'This fits the pattern of previous ISIS attacks'

Dozens killed in jihadist attacks

It is the first attack in the Tunisian capital since November 24, 2015 when a suicide bombing killed 12 security agents on a bus for presidential guards. That attack was claimed by the so-called Islamic State jihadist group.

"It is a miracle that there has been no attack on Avenue Bourguiba because it is the nerve centre of the country and the symbolic place of protest and revolution. The situation was relatively contained," Boussois explained.

Since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, jihadist attacks in Tunisia have killed dozens of members of the security forces and foreign tourists.

In June 2015, 38 people were killed in a shooting rampage at the coastal resort of Sousse which targeted tourists, while an attack the same year on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis left 22 people dead.

The terror attacks decimated Tunisia's crucial tourism sector, which made up seven percent of gross domestic product.

The country has been under a state of emergency since November 2015. The state of emergency was extended earlier this month until November 6, amid a tense political climate ahead of legislative and presidential elections planned for next year.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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