The day a bus was bombed in downtown Tunis
TUNIS - It rained most of the day in Tunis. That meant it was almost impossible to find a taxi in the afternoon rush hour on Avenue Mohamed V. Despite the rain, there was no option but to walk towards the clock tower some 2 km away, hoping I could find a taxi along the way.
Suddenly, I heard an explosion. It was loud and came from the direction of the clock tower. It was exactly 16.58. People carried on walking in the rain as if nothing had happened.
I continued towards the clock tower. Eight minutes later, police sirens were heard. One or two police vehicles rushed past. Then another, then a couple of fire trucks and the first ambulance. It was beginning to get dark and their flashing lights could be seen ahead by the iconic but closed-down Hotel du Lac.
Sirens began to fill the air, as more police cars and ambulances sped past. The first ambulances were now heading in the opposite direction, presumably taking the wounded to hospital.
About 20 minutes after the explosion, I stood at the intersection of Mohamed V and Rue Medhat Pacha, which runs along the side of the empty hotel. The street lights were not working, but the small street was lit by a mass of flashing blue and red lights. Armed police blocked off the side street. A small crowd had gathered, many taking photos with their phones.
“What happened?” I asked. Some did not know. “A bomb,” said others. “It was a police bus,” a woman standing next to me said. “Members of the presidential security. All 15 have been killed.”
The toll was later put at 12 security guards dead and 20 wounded.
It was still raining but the crowd was growing and starting to block the avenue, which was now closed off to traffic. The police started ordering people away. Calmly they moved on. There was no sense of danger or, at that point, even of horror — even though the word “Daesh”, an Arabic term for the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, could already be heard on people’s lips. The crowd was calm.
“We need to move away from here,” I said to two people I had been talking to. “These people often have a second bomb that goes off a little later.”
We walked the couple of hundred metres to a café. Inside, everyone was quiet as if they did not know what to think. Shock, emotion and anger had not yet sunk in.
I went off to look for a taxi. It was still raining.