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Islamist gunmen slay 20 foreign tourists in museum massacre

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Islamist gunmen slay 20 foreign tourists in museum massacre
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Tunisia said it would deploy thearmy to major cities and arrested nine people on Thursday after20 foreign tourists were shot dead in an attack on a museumwhich Islamic State militants called “the first drop of therain”.

Japanese, Italian, Spanish and British visitors, as well asthree Tunisians, were among the victims of the attack, whichtook place in the heavily guarded parliament compound of acountry largely spared the violent aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Officials did not confirm the militants’ claim ofresponsibility, but said they had identified two gunmen shotdead by security forces after the shootings, which targetedtourist buses visiting the Bardo museum on Wednesday.

The two gunmen were trained at a jihadist camp in Libya, theTunisian government said. Interior ministry official RafikChelli said the two men had been recruited at mosques in Tunisiaand travelled to Libya in September.

Cruise liner MSC Cruises said 12 of its passengers,including Colombians, French and a Belgian, were among the dead,while a Spanish couple was found alive on Thursday after hidingall night in the museum.

The assault – the most deadly attack involving foreignersin Tunisia since a 2002 suicide bombing in Djerba – came at afragile moment for a country just emerging to full democracyafter its pioneering popular uprising four years ago.

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

Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in large partsof Iraq and Syria and is active in Tunisia’s chaotic neighbourLibya, praised the two attackers in an audio recording as”knights of the Islamic State” armed with machineguns and bombs.

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

“We tell the apostates who sit on the chest of MuslimTunisia: Wait for the glad tidings of what will harm you, oimpure ones, for what you have seen today is the first drop ofthe rain,” the Islamic State audio said in Arabic.

The two dead militants were identified as Tunisians, Hatemal-Khashnawi and Yassin al-Abidi. Two local newspapers reportedAbidi had spent time in Iraq and Libya, but officials did notconfirm that.

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid said Abidi had beenunder surveillance but “not for anything very special”.

“We have identified them, it is indeed these twoterrorists,” the premier told French RTL radio earlier onThursday. “Their affiliation is not clear at the moment.”

ARMY TO GUARD LARGE CITIES

Tunisian authorities said they had arrested four peopledirectly linked to the attack and five others with indirectties. A security source said two family members of one of thegunmen were among those held. “We arrested the father and thesister of the terrorist Hatem Al-Khashnawi in the their home inSbiba City,” the source told Reuters.

The president’s office said the army would be deployed tothe streets as part of increased security following the attack.”After a meeting with the armed forces, the president hasdecided 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 amongthe dead in shootings it called cowardly and despicable.

Spain said the woman in the couple who emerged from themuseum alive on Thursday was pregnant. “They were hidden thiswhole time, without daring to make a phone call, probablybecause they were anxious and scared, as you can imagine,”Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.

Four years after a popular revolt toppled autocrat ZineEl-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has completed its transition todemocracy with free elections, a new constitution and compromisepolitics between secular and Islamist parties.

But security forces are battling Islamist militantsincluding Ansar al Sharia, which is listed as a terrorist groupby Washington, and Okba Ibn Nafaa, a brigade of alQaeda-affiliated fighters operating in the Chaambi mountainsalong the Algerian border.

The fight against these militants may have played a role inprompting the museum attack, said Geoff Porter, security analystat North Africa Risk Consulting. “Increasing pressure onterrorist activities in the Djebel Chaambi region may havesqueezed the balloon, with terrorists seeking softer targetswith more symbolic impact,” he said.

FOREIGN FIGHTERS

A former commander in Tunisia‘s Ansar al Sharia was killedlast week fighting for Islamic State in Libyan city of Sirte. Hehad been running training and logistics, security sources said.

The United States said it could not confirm Islamic Statewas responsible but that the attacks were consistent with thegroup’s actions. It offered Tunisia counterterrorism help.

An earlier Islamic State news broadcast distributed onlinealso mentioned the Tunis attack, describing the perpetrators asMujahideen and asking God to receive them as martyrs inparadise. But it did not claim direct responsibility.

A social media account linked to Okba Ibn Nafaa brigade alsoprovided details of the attack, without a direct claim ofresponsibility. But that group has also issued conflictingstatements in the past about its position on Islamic State.

The Bardo attack appeared squarely aimed at Tunisia’s economy, with tourism accounting for seven percent of grossdomestic product. The government estimates that loses thisseason for the tourism sector would reach $700 million.

Two German tour operators said they were cancelling tripsfrom Tunisia’s beach resorts to Tunis for a few days and Accor,Europe‘s largest hotel group, said it had tightened security atits two hotels in Tunisia. Italy‘s Costa Cruises, a unit ofCarnival Corp CCL.N, cancelled stops in Tunisia.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

 

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