UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Homeland Security

Islamic State Claims Attack at Tunisia Museum

by VOA News March 19, 2015

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Thursday for the deadly attack on Tunisia's national museum that killed 23 people, mostly foreign tourists.

The Islamist group's statement described the attack as a "blessed invasion of one of the dens of infidels and vice in Muslim Tunisia," and appeared on a forum that carries messages from the group.

It praised the two attackers as "knights of the Islamic State" who were armed with machine guns and bombs, according to an audio recording distributed online. The message also threatened more attacks: 'What you have seen is only the start.'

The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group also announced that the Islamic State group had claimed Wednesday's attack.

U.S. intelligence agencies are reviewing the claim. While U.S. officials said there is nothing so far to suggest the claim is not authentic, they note that Tunisian terror groups have had varying allegiances.

Arrests in attack

Earlier Thursday, Tunisian authorities said they had arrested nine people in connection with a massacre at a Tunis museum that killed 23 people.

The Tunisian president's office gave no further details on those detained.

The president's office said the army would be deployed to major cities as part of increased security following the attack. "After a meeting with the armed forces, the president has decided large cities will be secured by the army," the statement said.

Within hours of the attack Wednesday government officials said police were searching for accomplices, after security forces at the scene shot dead two gunmen, identified as Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui, in an attempt to free captives.

​​The pair had opened fire on tourists outside the National Bardo Museum before taking a small group hostage.

Among the dead are 20 foreign tourists and three Tunisians, government officials said Thursday. More than 40 people were injured.

'The target of the attack was the parliament and the national museum,' said Parliament President Mohamed Ennaceur during a special session late Wednesday. 'These are symbols and this attack was a message to tell us that terrorism today has changed in that it has a presence in the city and is eyeing our national symbols.'

Tunisia is heavily reliant on foreign tourists. Some media reported Tunisia's parliament, which meets in a building near the museum, had been debating legislation to combat terrorism as the attack began.

Said Sadek, a Cairo-based professor of political sociology, told VOA that militants in Tunisia have in the past targeted security forces, making Wednesday's attack especially disturbing.

"Terrorists pick targets because they know it will have certain impacts. It's not just killing unknown tourists in a museum. They want to kill Tunisia. The want to kill the economy of Tunisia. So this is really the target,' Sadek said.

Prime Minister Habib Essid said the shooters were wearing military-style uniforms when they 'hunted and chased down' tourists at the museum before taking a small group captive.

Among the victims were foreign visitors from Japan, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Colombia. Essid said three Tunisians also died in the attack.

Tunisian television showed images of older tourists and children fleeing the scene under the cover of armed security forces. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said at least 100 people were inside the museum at the time of the attack.

Spain said a Spanish couple -- including a pregnant woman -- were found alive Thursday after spending the night hiding inside the Bardo with a museum guard.

In a television address to the nation late Wednesday, President Beji Caid Essebsi said, 'I want the people of Tunisia to understand firstly and lastly that we are in a war with terror, and these savage minority groups will not frighten us.''

Tunisians overthrew Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and kicked off the Arab Spring revolutions that spread across the region. In the past four years, Tunisia has completed its transition to democracy with free elections, a new constitution and compromise politics between secular and Islamist parties.

But security forces are battling Islamist militants including Ansar al Sharia, which is listed as a terrorist group by Washington, and Okba Ibn Nafaa, a brigade of al-Qaida-affiliated fighters operating in the Chaambi mountains along the Algerian border.

World reaction

​​U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was among officials around the world who also condemned the attack and offered support for Tunisia.

'We commend Tunisian authorities' rapid response to today's wanton violence and their efforts to resolve the hostage situation and restore calm,' Kerry said in an emailed statement.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the attack 'the latest example of extremist terror,' and said 'we have to fight it with everything we have.'

The United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the shootings.

'The members of the Security Council stressed that no terrorist attack can reverse the path of Tunisia towards democracy and all efforts directed towards economic recovery and development,' read a statement from the council.

French President Francois Hollande he asked Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to go to Tunisia 'to reinforce the security cooperation with the Tunisians.'

EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini said she offered Tunisia 'all the EU's support, not only in the security and counterterrorism fields, but also in the fields of the democratic process, of the economic reconstruction and of the investment on the future of young Tunisians.'

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from the Pentagon. Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list