Tunisia moves to reassure tourists after suicide attacks

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Tourists visit the Bardo Museum in Tunis on October 3, 2018. /AFP
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Agencies

Tunisian officials have sought to reassure tourists after twin suicide bombings targeting security forces struck the country’s capital on Thursday, killing a patrol officer and injuring at least eight people.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed described the bombings as “a cowardly terrorist operation [to] destabilise Tunisians, the economy and democratic transition,” noting that they happened as the tourist season was in full swing.

In an interview with The Associated Press, his tourism minister, René Trabelsi, said he did not think the first attack was tied to the French Embassy nearby but had targeted Tunisian police.

“This attack against national security agents (…) has nothing to do with tourists,” said Trabelsi.

A critical sector for Tunisia’s economy, tourism accounted for some 14% of the country’s GDP and employed almost half a million people from a population of 11 million back in 2014.

But those figures plummeted following successive terrorist attacks in 2015, which threatened the country’s relative political stability in the region.

The terror threat led to travel agencies pulling out and foreign governments issuing warnings for citizens planning to go to Tunisia.

Since then, tourism has partially bounced back as government increased security around popular destinations.

The tourism minister said he had a “message to tourists: have a good holiday and come to Tunisia. Tunisia is a country that fights these terrorists.”

President in hospital

President Essebsi in critical condition

Thursday’s bombings came as the country’s 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi, who had been released from a brief hospitalisation less than a week ago, was rushed again to the hospital after being struck with a “serious illness”.

Prime Minister Chahed said he had paid a visit to the ailing president in a message posted on Facebook .

“I would like to reassure Tunisians that the president is receiving the necessary care,” he said, warning against the dissemination of “false and confusing information”.

The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attacks through its Amaq progaganda agency. It was unclear whether it was an opportunistic claim.

The IS group was behind Tunisia’s deadliest extremist attacks, which struck at the heart of Tunisia’s tourism sector in 2015.

One at the Bardo Museum in Tunis killed 22 people, and another three months later killed 38 people in the coastal city of Sousse.

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