Gunmen Attack Tunisian MuseumMarch 18, 2015 in ISIS, Islamic State, Terrorism, Tunisia
18 March- Gunmen dressed in military uniforms and armed with grenades and assault rifles attacked the National Bardo Museum in central Tunis, killing nineteen. Among the dead were seventeen foreigners including Italian, Spanish, Polish and German citizens. The museum is near the national Parliament, which was evacuated as police officers responded to the attack. Tunisian officials have suggested that Parliament was the originally intended target, as reports emerged that legislators were discussing an antiterrorism law on Wednesday.
Among the dead were seventeen tourists and two Tunisians. Eight people were killed as they alighted from a bus to visit the museum. A further ten were taken hostage and then killed. A Tunisian museum guard who was injured in the attack and died later of his wounds. During a news conference, Prime Minister Habib Essid said that 24 more people were injured in the attack.
The identity of the two terrorists has not been established. There are reports that a third gunmen and additional operatives may remain at large. At the time of this writing, the operation at the museum remains ongoing but is near completion, according to Tunisian authorities.
Protests in Tunisia beginning in 2010 were the spark of a series of popular revolts in the region termed “The Arab Spring”. Tunisia has experienced a successful, although at times turbulent, transition of governments and has fostered democracy. The nation recently held presidential and parliamentary elections. Recently elected Prime Ministar Essid called the incident “a critical moment in our history, and a defining moment for our future.” Tunisia is striving to reinvigorate its economy and tourism industry after years of unrest; tourism is a critical sector in Tunisia’s economy.
However while Tunisia has enjoyed a degree of success, today’s attack reveal the significance of another emerging issue for the nation. A number of Tunisians have left the country to become fighters abroad. Some have left to join the fight against Bashar al Assad in Syria, while others have been tempted by recruiters for ISIS. Recruiters for the terrorist group have taken advantage of the unrest in Tunisia and targeted jaded youth; including those who are angry with the high unemployment rate and the abusive police force (remnants of the old regime). Tunisia is currently one of the largest sources of foreign fighters for ISIS. In December 2014, a video of three Tunisian fighters for ISIS warned that Tunisians would not live securely “as long as Tunisia is not governed by Islam.” Today’s attacks indicate that Tunisia may experience similar attacks as fighters return to the country. This concern rings true for many nations across the Middle East and North Africa.
Tunisia’s woes are amplified by the unrest in neighbouring Libya has become increasingly unstable. Fighting in Libya has come close to Tunisian borders, and Tunisian security forces have engaged in battles with terrorist elements who cross into Tunisia in the mountainous regions that share a border with Libya. Tunisian authorities have also battled with fighters linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who occasionally target Tunisian security forces.
Today’s attack comes a day after ISIS reported the death of a prominent Tunisian field commander during fighting in Libya. A eulogy statement posted online late on Monday said Ahmed al-Ruwaysi, also known as Abu Zakariya al-Tunisi, was killed in recent days amid clashes in Sirte. Al-Tunisi, according to the eulogy, planned and participated in the 2013 assassinations of two prominent liberal Tunisian politicians: Mohammed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid. It is likely that the attacks today are directly related to the death of Al-Tunisi.