* Bomber targeted beach hotel
* Government is cracking down on hardline Islamists
* Libya chaos exploited by Tunisia's militants
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS, Oct 30 A suicide bomber blew himself up
in the Tunisian tourist resort of Sousse on Wednesday, the first
such assault in more than a decade in a country now battling
Islamist militants boosted by chaos in neighbouring Libya.
Police foiled another attack when they arrested a would-be
suicide bomber at former President Habib Bourguiba's tomb in the
seaside town of Monastir, and detained five other people in
Sousse thought to be plotting assaults, security sources said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the
Islamist-led government said all the arrested men had admitted
to being members of the militant Ansar al-Sharia movement, which
it says is linked to al Qaeda's North Africa affiliate.
"The two suicide bombers are radical Islamist jihadists.
They are Tunisians, but they had been in a neighbouring
country," said Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui,
without specifying the country.
The first bomber had tried to enter the Riadh Palms Hotel
with a suitcase. Turned away, he ran onto the beach and blew
himself up, a security source said. No one else was hurt.
The bombing is bad news for the vital tourism industry in
Tunisia, which attracted 5.8 million mostly European visitors to
its Mediterranean beaches and desert tours in 2012. Tourism is
still recovering from the 2011 uprising that toppled the North
African country's autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisia's stock market dropped 0.95 percent after the
"We don't know the consequences right now ... Whatever
happens it will be negative because this is the first time they
attack a hotel," said Mohamed Ali Toumi, head of Tunisia's
federation of travel agencies.
Al Qaeda carried out Tunisia's only previous suicide
bombing in 2002 when 21 people were killed at a synagogue on the
island of Djerba.
Police tightened security in the capital Tunis and sealed
off the nearby village of Sidi Bou Said, which is popular with
tourists. Hundreds of police deployed in other resorts such as
Hammamet and Djerba.
Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahda Party, which governs in
coalition with two secular parties, condemned attacks on
tourists, which he said targeted Tunisia's political transition.
"Whoever tried to assault the tourists and the tomb of
President Bourguiba are criminals who want to destroy the
economy and democratic transition in Tunisia," he said.
"They will not succeed, thanks to the vigilance of our
security and our army and our unity against terrorism."
Since the 2011 uprising, Islamists have pressed for strict
Sharia law to be imposed in one of the Muslim world's most
secular countries, which has strong ties to Europe.
Oppressed and jailed under Ben Ali, conservative Salafis -
followers of a puritanical strain of Sunni Islam - have had more
freedom to express their views since 2011.
Hardline Islamists have also attacked alcohol sellers, art
shows, theatres and cinemas, and have taken over mosques.
The rise to power of an elected Islamist-led government has
fuelled fears of many secular Tunisians that women's rights and
liberal educational traditions may be eroded.
The ruling Ennahda party says even ultra-orthodox Islamist
views must be accommodated in Tunisia's fledgling democracy, but
that there is no place for armed militants.
Authorities say the militants have acquired weapons and
training in neighbouring Libya, where the government has failed
to impose order since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Ennahda accused Ansar al-Sharia militants of being behind
the assassination of two secular opposition leaders this year.
Those attacks ignited protests by opposition supporters who
said Ennahda had been lenient with hardline Islamists. Ennahda
has agreed to step down within the next three weeks to end the
unrest and make way for a caretaker government until elections.
Ansar al-Sharia was also blamed for inciting an attack by
Islamist protesters on the U.S. embassy a year ago. Its leader
is a former al Qaeda veteran who once fought in Afghanistan.
Nine Tunisian policemen were killed in clashes with
militants earlier this month in two different cities.