5 held in Tunisia after failed suicide attacks
31 October 2013, 14:56
Tunis - Tunisian security forces on Wednesday arrested five
Salafist "terrorists" with links to two failed attacks in coastal
resort towns, the first suicide bids in the country for more than a decade.
The presidency insisted the attacks, which have yet to be
claimed, would not "derail" the country's democratic transition.
The suicide bomber struck early on Wednesday at the
four-star Riadh Palms hotel, in the resort town of Sousse, a popular tourist
destination 140km south of Tunis.
"A man blew himself up on a beach in Sousse,"
ministry spokesperson Mohamed Ali Laroui told AFP, adding that no one else was
Within just half an hour, security forces foiled another
suicide attack by an 18-year-old man on the tomb of former president Habib
Bourguiba, in neighbouring Monastir, 20 kilometres along the coast.
Tunisian special forces later arrested "five terrorists
with direct links to the assailants" in Sousse and Monastir, the interior
Ministry spokesperson Mohamed Ali Laroui said those behind
the attacks belonged to Ansar al-Sharia, Tunisia's main Salafist movement,
which the authorities have designated a "terrorist organisation" with
ties to al-Qaeda.
Since the 2011 revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben
Ali, Tunisia has been rocked by violence blamed on radical Islamist groups
suppressed under the former dictator, including the killings this year of two
But Wednesday's failed suicide bombings are the first in
Tunisia since 2002, when an attack claimed by al-Qaeda killed 21 people at the
ancient Ghriba synagogue on the resort island of Djerba.
The Tunisian presidency the violence will not succeed in
"derailing" the country's political transition.
It was referring to a national dialogue underway between the
ruling Islamists party Ennahda and the opposition to end months of political
crisis, sparked by the July assassination of opposition politician Mohamed
Brahmi by suspected jihadists.
Ennahda's veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi, who has been
criticised in the past for encouraging dialogue with Tunisia's hardline Salafists,
denounced "those who tried to target tourists," calling them
"criminals who want to destroy Tunisia, its economy and its democratic
Fears for tourism
The bomber in Sousse tried to enter the hotel by a back door
but was spotted by guards and chased from the complex, blowing himself up
instead on the nearby beach which was deserted, witnesses told AFP.
The interior ministry said anti-terrorist units were
sweeping the area looking for an accomplice who fled, and an inquiry has been
opened into the circumstances of the attack.
Shortly after the blast, a spontaneous protest was held in
the centre of Sousse "to condemn terrorism," witnesses said.
In Monastir, Laroui said a planned attack on the compound of
the Bourguiba mausoleum was foiled when a young man carrying explosives was
arrested before he managed to blow himself up.
Last year a Salafist was jailed for eight months for
desecrating the tomb, a lavish building with two minarets and a gold dome that
was commissioned by Bourguiba himself, Tunisia's staunchly-secular first
A photographer said residents saw the would-be attacker
behaving suspiciously in a cemetery near the tomb and reported him. He was
arrested by presidential security guards.
Large quantity of explosives
Private radio station Mosaique FM identified the suspect as
Aymen Saadi Berchid from northern Tunisian and said four arrest warrants had
previously been issued for him.
Police also found "a large quantity of explosives"
in a clifftop house near the marina in Monastir, according to Shems FM.
Wednesday's planned attacks are likely to fuel fears for
Tunisia's stricken tourist sector, which has been largely untouched by the
surge in jihadist violence since Ben Ali's ouster and which generates vital
revenues for the cash-strapped government.
Extra security was meanwhile deployed at hotels in Tunis
amid fears of another attack.
The French embassy urged "increased vigilance,"
and advised its citizens to avoid meeting places, while German Foreign Minister
Guido Westerwelle assured his Tunisian counterpart Othman Jarandi of Berlin's
continued support for the transition process.
Ennahda party, which swept Tunisia's first
post-revolutionary elections in October 2011, has been sharply criticised by
the opposition for failing to combat a rise in jihadist militancy.
The army on Tuesday launched a "huge" operation to
track down jihadists in the central Sidi Bouzid region, after six policemen
were killed in the area last week.
The government has linked Tunisia's armed jihadists to al-Qaeda
in the Islamic Maghreb, but it has admitted lacking adequate resources to