Islamic State claimed responsibility Thursday for an attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 20 foreigners earlier this week. Security forces killed two terrorists during the assault, which has highlighted Tunisia’s growing susceptibility to Islamic State terrorists in the region.
Wednesday’s attack started when gunmen fired on tourists disembarking from coach buses outside the museum, before heading inside to take hostages. Police raided the building shortly after, finding at least three Japanese, two Spanish, two French, and one British national, among others, dead at the scene. The museum was widely considered a safe area given its close proximity to the heavily guarded parliament building next door.
A member of Tunisia’s security forces stands guard in the capital, Tunis, following the attack. (Photo: AFP)
The following day security forces arrested nine other people, in connection to the attacks. At least one of the two perpetrators killed, Yassine Labidi, had been known to Tunisian authorities for his extremist views; but, government officials told the media that they had not been aware of any “specific links” to militant groups or plans for an imminent attack. Over the past few weeks however, twitter accounts linked to extremists warned local muslims to stay away from sites where Westerners gather. Jihadists on social media also promised to avenge the death of Ahmed Rouissi, an IS commander in Libya and suspected murder of two Tunisian opposition figures, who was killed recently near Sirte.
This week’s attack in Tunisia showcases a troubling trend in the small Mediterranean state. Widely viewed as one of the most stable and democratic Arab country following the 2011 revolution against longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has become a large exporter of jihadists. According to a recent UN report, 4,000 Islamists from the small nation of 11 million people have joined Islamic State fighters in Libya and another 3,000 in Syria. Many could return home radicalized and with the training needed to launch such deadly attacks.