Tunisian security forces arrested on Tuesday five people suspected of plotting a suicide bombing that shook a tourist resort and a foiled attack on the tomb of independence leader Habib Bourguiba.
“The interior ministry’s specialized security units have managed in a short time to capture five individuals having direct ties with the two terrorists authors of the attempts of terrorist acts in Sousse and Monastir,” the state news agency reported.
Ministry spokesman 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 organization” with ties to al-Qaeda, AFP reported.
Just half an hour later, in the neighboring town of Monastir, 20 kilometers along the coast, security forces foiled another suicide attack by an 18-year-old man at the tomb of Tunisia's independence leader Habib Bourguiba.
Laroui said those behind the thwarted attack and the beach bombing were Tunisian “Salafist jihadists,” describing one as dark-skinned and saying the other had just returned from an unnamed neighboring country.
The attack in Sousse was the first of its kind since 2002 when al-Qaeda carried out an attack that killed 21 people at a synagogue on the island of Djerba.
Tunisia has increasingly faced a rise in Islamist militants gaining training and weapons from Libya, a country with almost non-existent security where militants run unchecked.
The first bomber sought to enter the Riadh Palms Hotel with a suitcase. Turned away, he ran onto the beach and blew himself up, a security source said. No one else was hurt.
Bad news for the economy
The events are likely to deal a blow to the country’s recovering tourism industry. In 2012, Tunisia’s capital equipped with Mediterranean beaches and desert tours attracted 5.8 million visitors, mostly from Europe.
“We don't know the consequences right now, but in 24 hours we will find out. Whatever happens it will be negative because this is the first time they attack a hotel,” said Mohamed Ali Toumi, head of Tunisia's federation of travel agencies.
Tunisia's stock market dropped 0.95 percent after the bombing.
In another blow to the country’s economy, Fitch Ratings announced Tuesday that has downgraded Tunisia's main ratings to 'BB-' from 'BB+', with a negative outlook, citing the delayed political transition in the country since the Arab Spring uprising.
“Uncertainty over the ultimate success of the process has increased,” Fitch said. “Attacks and killings by terrorist groups have gained momentum in recent months, worsening security and stability.”
Tunisia's presidential and parliamentary elections initially due to be held earlier this year have been postponed.
(With AFP and Reuters)