The U.S. Embassy in Tunis said it would comment later on the incident, but the embassy did tweet a statement to American citizens that read: “Emergency personnel are responding to an explosion that occurred near the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Please avoid the area and monitor local media for updates.”
Pictures posted on social media of the apparent scene of the attack suggest that the bombers had arrived at the embassy’s external gate, near a tent where security guards check for passports and other identification documents. The bombers detonated themselves less than 100 yards from the embassy’s main entrance.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but Tunisia has been targeted by Islamist extremists several times in recent years. In June, the Islamic State staged twin suicide bombings in the Tunisian capital, killing one police officer and injuring several others.
In 2015, Islamic State militants attacked the resort town of Sousse and the famed Bardo National Museum in the capital, killing scores of people, mostly foreign tourists. The following year, Islamic State militants, mostly Tunisians, entered from Libya and tried to seize the border town of Ben Guerdane before Tunisian security forces repelled them.
On Friday, several employees who work in nearby offices reported hearing a powerful explosion shortly after 11 a.m. — a sudden noise they described as surprising on the heavily guarded road in front of the embassy.
Rim Assili, who works for a car company next to the embassy, said she was in her car close by when she heard a loud “poof.”
“I hoped it was a gas explosion,” she said.
She left the car and saw a crowd of people and police officers descend on the scene. Onlookers began snapping photos of the assailant’s body parts strewn across the road, she said. She reported seeing two police officers who looked to be gravely wounded lying on the ground, and ambulances soon arrived to carry them to a hospital. One of them died.
The Council of Ministers is meeting at the presidential palace in Carthage for a briefing about the attack, according to the interior ministry statement.
Raghavan reported from Cairo. Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo contributed to this report.