By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) – A wanted militant wearing an explosive belt blew himself up in the Tunisian capital after being surrounded by police, the government said on Wednesday, but there were no other casualties.
The third such incident within a week comes months ahead of an election and at the peak of a tourist season in which Tunisia is hoping for a record number of visitors.
Witnesses had told Reuters the man blew himself up in the Intilaka area of the capital, Tunis, after being surrounded by the police. Residents heard a loud explosion.
An interior ministry spokesman said police opened fire on the man, whom authorities described as a wanted militant called Aymen Smiri, without giving further details.
“Following a long chase, special forces surrounded the terrorist,” the interior ministry said in statement. “When forces began shooting, he blew himself up with an explosive belt he was wearing.”
There were no other casualties, it added.
Police later found 10 kg (22 lb) of explosives hidden in a mosque in the same area, state news agency TAP said.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in separate attacks on police in Tunis on Thursday, killing one police officer and wounding several people. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Tunisia has been battling militant groups operating in remote areas near its border with Algeria since an uprising overthrew autocratic leader Zine Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. High unemployment has also stoked unrest in recent years.
Last October, a woman blew herself up in the centre of Tunis, wounding 15 people, including 10 police officers, in an explosion that shattered a long period of calm after dozens of people died in militant attacks in 2015.
Security has tightened since authorities imposed a state of emergency in November 2015 after those attacks, one at a museum in Tunis and another on a beach in the Mediterranean seaside town of Sousse. A third attack targeted presidential guards in the capital. Islamic State claimed responsibility.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara and Nayera Abdallah; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Clarence Fernandez, William Maclean)