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Monday 23 October 2017

IS claims responsibility for Tunisia attack which left 20 foreign tourists dead

A policeman guards the entrance of the Bardo museum in Tunis (AP)
A policeman guards the entrance of the Bardo museum in Tunis (AP)

ISLAMIC State has claimed responsibility for the attack which left 20 foreign tourists dead in Tunisia.

Officials said the army would be deployed to major cities as nine people were yesterday arrested over the deadly attack at a museum in the capital.

Two militants were shot dead by security forces after opening fire on tourist buses visiting the Bardo museum inside Tunisia's heavily guarded parliament compound on Wednesday.

Japanese, Italian, Spanish and British visitors, as well as three Tunisians, were among the victims. The assault - the most deadly attack involving foreigners in Tunisia since a 2002 suicide bombing in Djerba - came at a fragile moment for a country just emerging to full democracy after its pioneering popular uprising four years ago.

ATTACKERS

It is heavily reliant on foreign tourists to its beach resorts and desert treks, and the government was about to tackle politically sensitive reforms aimed at boosting economic growth.

The Islamic State militant group, which has declared a caliphate in large parts of Iraq and Syria and is active in Tunisia's chaotic neighbour Libya, praised the two attackers in an audio recording in Arabic, calling them "knights of the Islamic State" armed with machineguns and bombs.

Tunisians make up the one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and their homeland's young democracy, which has cracked down on militancy at home, was a clear potential target.

The two dead militants were identified as Tunisians, Hatem al-Khashnawi and Yassin al-Abidi. Two local newspapers reported Abidi had spent time in Iraq and Libya, but officials did not confirm that.

Tunisia's Prime Minister Habib Essid said Abidi had been under surveillance but "not for anything very special".

"We have identified them, it is indeed these two terrorists," the premier told French RTL radio earlier. "Their affiliation is not clear at the moment."

ARRESTED

Authorities said they had arrested four people directly linked to the attack and five others with indirect ties. A security source said two family members of one of the gunmen were among those held. "We arrested the father and the sister of the terrorist Hatem Al-Khashnawi in the their home in Sbiba City," the source told Reuters.

The president's office said the army would be deployed to the streets 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," it said.

The number of foreign tourists killed rose to 20 from 17, the health minister said. London said a British woman was among the dead in shootings it said were cowardly and despicable.

Four years after a popular revolt toppled autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, 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 and Okba Ibn Nafaa, a brigade of al Qaeda-affiliated fighters.

The fight against these militants may have played a role in prompting the museum attack, said Geoff Porter, security analyst at North Africa Risk Consulting. "Increasing pressure on terrorist activities in the Djebel Chaambi region may have squeezed the balloon, with terrorists seeking softer targets," he said.

hnews@herald.ie

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