A woman carried out a suicide attack on the afternoon of Monday, October 29 on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main street in downtown Tunis. According to the authorities, nine people were injured, including eight police officers. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to an eyewitness.

The toll could have been much heavier: the explosion went off not long after the end of a protest on the steps of Tunis’s municipal theatre. The protesters denounced the death of Aymen Othmani, a 19-year-old who was shot dead by police officers on October 23.

A passerby looking back at the body of the woman who carried out the suicide attack. Photo published on Facebook; body blurred by FRANCE 24.

"Thankfully there was only one explosion, or the toll could have been much worse"

Ahmed Tabbebi is an activist who took part in the protest. He had only walked a few dozen metres away from the theatre when he heard the explosion:

"The protest had just ended, and people had begun to disperse, when I heard a loud explosion. Everyone’s first reflex was to flee, but then some people came back to film and take photos. That’s when I saw that the police officers were in a state of panic. They were the worst hit, because six of their vehicles were parked around the theatre to monitor the protest.

From a little distance, I saw five or six injured police officers. For about five minutes, it seemed the police didn’t know what to do: they were running in every direction, they didn’t seem to be communicating between themselves, they didn’t know whether they should first help their injured colleagues or get people out of the area… Thankfully there was only one explosion, or the toll could have been much worse.

A few minutes later, the police officers calmed down and secured the perimeter so that nobody could enter it.

Photo published on Facebook showing the security perimeter around the area where a woman carried out a suicide attack. The woman's body has been blurred by FRANCE 24.

Tunisia is going through a political and economic crisis at the moment. And starting next Saturday, it will host an international film festival, the Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage. So, in this context, while I wouldn’t say we were waiting for an attack, we know from experience that the risk of one occurring is high and we were prepared for this possibility."

A Tunisian government source told the French daily Le Monde: “It’s still too early to say if this was a terrorist attack, but it is clear that the woman was targeting the police officers.”

Up until this suicide attack, Tunis was experiencing a period of relative calm following a series of bloody attacks. In November 2017, a man attacked two policemen with a knife, killing one. The last attack before that was back in November 2015, just a few hundred metres from this Monday’s attack. A man blew himself up in front of a bus belonging to the presidential guard, killing 12 police officers.