Suicide bombers near US Embassy kill, injure police

TUNIS, TUNISIA (AP) — Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the United States (US) Embassy in Tunisia on Friday, killing one police officer and wounding four others, the Interior Ministry said.

Lawmaker Yosri Dali, head of the armed forces and security commission, confirmed eyewitness reports that the bombers were on a motorcycle. Dali said in an interview with Radio Mosaique that they blew themselves up when a police patrol stopped them to ask where they were going.

Spokesman for the judiciary’s counter-terrorism office Sofiane Selliti said the attackers’ motorcycle was “packed with explosives”.

Hundreds of police swarmed around the embassy on the outskirts of Tunis, the Tunisian capital, after the bombings. Sharpshooters could be seen on the roofs of nearby buildings and major streets were blocked. Security units were placed on maximum alert, the Interior Ministry said.

A ministry spokesman, Khaled Lahyouni, said one of the five officers injured in the blast died after surgery. A civilian was slightly injured.

Forensic officers work on a blast site near the United States Embassy in Tunis. PHOTO: AP

The spokesman insisted the dead attackers targetted the officers on patrol and not the US Embassy. An angry crowd of hundreds of people stormed the embassy compound in 2012.

The US State Department said it was “outraged” by the attack and saddened by the fatality. It said one of the US Embassy’s local employees was injured, but it did not elaborate. The State Department said it is working with local authorities on the investigation.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Authorities did not confirm media reports naming the attackers.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper said combatting terrorism is “a long-term proposition… there’s always going to be a threat wherever you are globally”.

The North African nation’s transition to democracy has been marred by extremist attacks. Dozens of people were killed in two attacks in 2015, at the noted Bardo Museum outside Tunis, and at a luxury beach hotel near Sousse, in the east.

Since the fall of Tunisia’s hard-line secular dictatorship in January 2011, extremists have increasingly come into the open. Some prisoners serving time for extremist-linked convictions have walked free. A flag inside the walled-off American diplomatic mission fluttered above the attack site outside the embassy’s compound. Police taped off the area, which was littered with charred debris, and forensic teams sorted through remnants of the explosion.

The US Embassy, located in a residential area on the outskirts of Tunis, came under assault in 2012 along with a nearby American school by crowds angered by a film produced in the US. Security forces killed four people during the attack in which the American flag was torn down.