Tunisia declares state of emergency after attack

A suicide bomber detonated his belt aboard a bus carrying presidential guards.

FILE: Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid. Picture: AFP

PRETORIA - A suicide bomber has killed 12 presidential guards in downtown Tunis.

The government has declared a state of emergency to deal with this third serious terrorist attack this past year.

Tunisiam President Beji Caid Essebsi called the bombing a painful event and a great tragedy, vowing his government will win its war against terrorism.

The explosion took place on a tree-lined avenue in the heart of the Tunisian capital.

The bomber detonated his belt aboard a bus carrying presidential guards to the palace on the outskirts of town.

Seventeen people were injured.

Attacks outside a downtown museum in March and at the beach resort Souse last June killed 60 people and brought Tunisia's vital tourism industry to its knees.

It was the third major attack in Tunisia this year after an Islamist militant killed 38 foreigners at a beach hotel in the resort of Sousse in June, and gunmen killed 21 tourists at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for both those attacks.

"They want to make us live with horror but we are going to bring that horror to the terrorist camps," Essebsi said in a televised speech. "We are at war and we are going to win."

Security sources said the guards were boarding the bus to be taken to the presidential palace on the outskirts of the city when it blew up. One presidential source said it was likely that a bomber had detonated his explosive belt inside the bus.

Essebsi cancelled a trip to Europe and said Tunis would be placed under curfew until Wednesday 5am. He reinstated a month-long state of emergency, temporarily giving the government more executive flexibility, security forces more powers, and restricting some civil rights.

Mohamed V is a major boulevard usually packed with traffic and pedestrians, and the site of several hotels and banks.

Fighting Islamist militants has become a major challenge for Tunisia, a small North African country that was hailed as a blueprint for democratic change in the region after an uprising in 2011 ousted autocrat Zine Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia has held free elections and is operating under a new constitution and a broad political consensus, for which secular and Islamist parties have managed to overcome deep disagreements.

But several thousand Tunisians have also left to fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya with Islamic State 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. Militants have attacked checkpoints and patrols in rural areas in the past.

In September, the government received intelligence reports pointing to possible car bombings in the capital and banned traffic in parts of the city.

This month, authorities arrested 17 Islamist militants and said they had prevented another major assault, planned for November, on hotels and security forces in Sousse.

Additional information by Reuters