efe-epaBy Javier Martín Tunis

A suspected double suicide bombing in the Tunisian capital on Thursday killed a police officer and injured at least eight others, security sources told Efe.

The Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization was quick to claim responsibility for the attacks.

Both of the bombers were "Islamic State fighters," IS news agency Amaq said in a message posted on Telegram.

The first blast occurred before midday when an apparent suicide bomber hit a police patrol vehicle on the corner of Rue Charles de Gaulle and Avenue de France in downtown Tunis, an area of the city busy with pedestrians and not far from the heavily-guarded French embassy.

"There was a huge explosion which rocked the whole street. People fled running in all directions," an eye-witness told Efe just meters from the entrance of the city's medina, a tourist hotspot.

Minutes after the explosion, the interior ministry confirmed there had been a fatality.

"One of the two seriously injured officers has died," the ministry said. "Three civilians have been hospitalized with injuries of varying degrees of gravity," it added.

Security services quickly cordoned off the scene of the attack and ushered onlookers away to clear a path for ambulances.

Body parts belonging to the alleged bomber were strewn across the road.

Within three hours the area had largely returned to normal.

Shortly after the first blast, a second bomber attacked the police's counter-terror department in the Al Gorjani neighborhood of the city, resulting in four casualties, security sources said.

"An investigation has been opened to clarify the circumstances behind the attacks," the ministry said. No group was yet to claim responsibility for the bombings.

State TV reported a third attack in the coastal city of Sousse, one of the holiday hotspots in the North African country, but the news was later dismissed as false.

It was the first attack to hit the Tunisian capital since Oct. 2018, when a 20-year-old detonated an explosive being carried in a bag near a police patrol vehicle on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, which is also near the French embassy, injuring 15.

Police later said the bomber on that occasion had come from a rural area of the country and had linked up with groups affiliated to IS.

That was the most serious attack in the country since 2015, when a spate of three attacks in Sousse killed 72 people - 60 foreign tourists and 12 members of the presidential guard.

Those attacks, which prompted a massive drop in Tunisia's tourism, one of the country's principal economic pillars, were claimed by a group claiming IS affiliation

Tunisia is considered the fourth-largest exporter of foreign extremists joining IS in Iraq and Syria, behind Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

Furthermore, since the 2011 revolution, which triggered a wave of pro-democracy protests across North Africa and the Middle East in what came to be known as the Arab Spring, several extremist groups have been embroiled in a low-intensity conflict with state security. The groups are largely confined to the Kasserine mountains on the Algerian border.

Tunisia's instability has also been tested by the situation on its border with Libya, which is embroiled in a complex civil war of its own.

Thursday's attacks come just four months after presidential and legislative elections, which were seen as a crucial test for the country's democratic system. EFE

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