TUNIS: The explosion that killed at least 12 people on a presidential guard bus in Tunis was carried out by a suicide bomber, Tunisian security officials have said.
The bus was hit on the busy Mohamed 5 Boulevard on Tuesday evening, prompting President Beji Caid Essebsi to impose a nationwide state of emergency.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, the third major one in Tunisia this year following the gun assaults on a Sousse resort hotel in June and the Bardo National Museum in Tunis in March.
“According to the preliminary details, the attacker was wearing a bag on his back,” Hichem Gharbi, a presidential security official, told local Shems FM radio.
“He had on a coat and was wearing headphones. He blew himself up just getting into the door of the bus with military explosives.”
It was also the first suicide bombing in Tunis.
In October 2013, a bomber blew himself up on a beach in Sousse, while an al-Qaeda suicide bomber attacked the synagogue in Djerba, killing 21 people.
“This is an evolution in the behaviour of the terrorists,” said Habib Essid, Tunisian prime minister, after an emergency security meeting.
“This time they attacked a symbol of the state and in the heart of the capital.”
Troops and armed police patrolled the streets and set up checkpoints searching vehicles and pedestrians.
At Tunis International Airport, security forces were allowing in only passengers who were travelling.
Aymen Abderrahman, a local journalist, said that “hundreds of police and military” swarmed the area of the attack after the explosion.
“It’s in the heart of downtown – a residential area,” he told Arab television by phone from Tunis, adding that people gathered and were “crying because it’s the first time it’s happened in downtown ever”.
“The blast was heard throughout the city.”
Emir Sfaxi, a Tunis-based activist and blogger, described traffic jams and a heavy military presence in the city after the attack.
“There is a lot of confusion,” he said shortly after the incident, adding that it took place “near the Ministry of Interior”.
The presidential guard is an elite security force that protects only the president.
Armed groups have targeted Tunisian security forces and civilians in the past, including in the capital and in areas in the country’s central region and on the border with Algeria.
Earlier this week, the interior ministry said that Moncef Marzouki, the former president, was the target of an assassination plot.
Marzouki “was informed by the interior ministry that he had been targeted in an assassination plan”, a ministry spokesman told AFP, adding that it was planned by a “terrorist” group.