TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A suicide bomber and a teenager carrying a backpack loaded with explosives attacked two sites popular with tourists Wednesday, raising fears that Tunisia's Islamist extremists may be adopting more violent tactics.
No one was killed besides the suicide bomber, but with the Interior Ministry saying both men belonged to the same extremist group, the attacks could signal the adoption of more deadly tactics by Tunisia's Islamic extremists, including ones aimed at tourists.
Religious extremism has been growing here since Tunisians kicked off the Arab Spring in 2011 by overthrowing their authoritarian president.
In what may have been the first suicide attack in Tunisia since the 2002 truck bombing of a synagogue, hotel security guards stopped the bomber from entering the Riadh Palm hotel in Sousse, a resort city 90 miles (150 kilometers) south of the capital, Tunis, then chased him to a beach where he blew himself up, the Interior Ministry said.
The ministry said the bomber wore an explosive belt. The city is being searched for possible accomplices, ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui said. He later added that six suspects had been arrested for being possible accomplices.
In the foiled attack in nearby Monastir, an 18-year-old followed a group of tourists into the mausoleum of modern Tunisia's founder, Habib Bourguiba, carrying a backpack full of TNT. He attempted to distract security by tossing a firework before being subdued, said Hicham Gharbi, a spokesman for the presidential guard, which patrols the site.
It was not immediately clear if the teen had planned a suicide attack of his own or just to plant the explosives.
"He will be questioned to learn his motives and those who ordered the attack," Gharbi told local radio. Bourguiba, Tunisia's first post-independence president, was a fierce secularist and has long been criticized by hard-line Islamists.
Riccardo Fabiani, the North Africa analyst for the Eurasia Group said that, coupled with a failed car bomb a few days ago, Wednesday's attacks suggest the start of a new campaign targeting civilians and tourism.
"A few episodes alone don't necessarily make compelling evidence, but three episodes of this kind point in this direction," he said in an interview. "It was also inevitable to an extent that this would happen sooner or later, if you consider the news over the past few months."
His analysis was echoed by Mokhtar Ben Nasr, the former spokesman for the military, who said the attacks were designed to harm the tourist industry and distract security forces from their efforts to root out militants based in the hinterlands.