TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — In what is believed to be the first suicide bombing in Tunisia, a man walked off the beach in a resort town on Wednesday and blew himself up in front of a seaside hotel, the Interior Ministry said. No one else was hurt.
Tunisia had largely avoided violence, but since the country kicked off the Arab Spring by overthrowing its long-ruling secular dictatorship, it has been battered by a rising Islamist insurgency in remote parts of the country. The violence is the first in a tourist area and raises fears for the country's already troubled tourism industry.
Witnesses told Tunisian media that the man appeared to be about to enter the Riadh Palm hotel in Sousse, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) south of the capital, Tunis, when he exploded. The Interior Ministry said that no one else was injured and no property was damaged. It said the bomber was a Tunisian man wearing an explosive belt.
Police also arrested a man carrying explosives near the mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, the country's first post-independence president, in the nearby city of Monastir, ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui told a local radio station. Both men appeared to belong to an extremist group, he said.
Sousse has long been a major destination for European tourism, a sector that was just now recovering from a catastrophic drop following the country's 2011 revolution when tourists stayed away amid the unrest. A security vacuum opened up and many long-repressed hardline Islamic groups appeared, some of whom armed themselves with weapons from civil war-wracked Libya to the east.
After tolerating hardline groups like Ansar al-Shariah, the moderate Islamist government banned them in September and began arresting members.
In the past year, clashes have erupted in remote areas as authorities discovered militant hideouts. Most recently six National Guardsmen were killed when they surrounded a house in the impoverished interior province of Sidi Bouzid and a policeman was killed in the northern town of Beja on Oct. 23.
There are also frequent clashes with what are described as al-Qaida linked jihadists holed up in mountains along the Algerian border.
In February and then again July, prominent left-wing politicians were shot dead in front of their homes by alleged jihadists.
The Sousse attack, however, appears to be the first attempt at a mass civilian casualty bombing.