TUNIS – Suicide attackers struck outside the U.S. Embassy in the Tunisian capital on Friday, killing a police officer, wounding six other people and once again shaking a city repeatedly hit by jihadi violence.
The latest attack came 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.
The noon explosion rocked the Berges du Lac district hosting the highly fortified embassy, 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 at a roundabout near the embassy.
The two attackers died and one officer, 52-year-old father of three Lt. 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.
Local media reported police raids on two working-class neighborhoods in northern Tunis.
Anti-terrorism prosecutors have opened an enquiry, spokesman Sofiene Sliti said, but no arrests had yet been made.
DNA tests were under way to identify the attackers, he said, adding that a large quantity of explosives was used.
“All security units are on high alert,” the interior ministry said.
After Friday’s blast, police sent reinforcements and forensic experts to the area, where body parts were strewn across the ground.
Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Ayouni noted that the attack took place the day before the fourth anniversary of a 2016 attack in the town of Ben Guerdane gthat killed 13 security forces and seven civilians.
A senior State Department official who returned from Tunisia to the U.S. on Thursday said that despite the attack, the country has been increasingly effective in fighting violent extremism.
“The response was quick, swift and significant,” R. Clarke Cooper told reporters in Washington.
Tunisian President Kais Saied and parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi visited the wounded in hospital.
“Fighting terrorism requires cultural and social measures, not just security measures,” Saied said.
Ennahdha, the Islamist inspired party of Ghannouchi, called “on all state institutions to double their efforts in fighting terrorism” and to adopt a controversial bill strengthening police powers.
Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia has witnessed a string of jihadi attacks that have killed dozens of security personnel, civilians and foreign tourists.
2015 was a particularly bloody year, with three major deadly attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.
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.
While the situation has significantly improved since then, 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 thoroughfare.
A civilian and a policeman were killed in those attacks, while seven were wounded.
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