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Islamic State group claims responsibility for Tunisia museum massacre

© SALAH HABIBI / AFP | Special forces soldiers evacuate tourists from the Tunis museum on Wednesday

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-03-20

The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for an attack on a museum in the Tunisian capital on Wednesday which killed 20 foreign tourists, according to an audio recording distributed online.

In an audio message posted online, the IS group said "two knights from the Islamic State... heavily armed with automatic weapons and grenades, targeted the Bardo Museum."

It threatened more attacks, saying: "What you have seen is only the start."

Trade unions and other civil society groups called for a silent demonstration outside the Tunis museum where the attack killed 20 foreigners and at least one Tunisian.

"The security forces were able to arrest four people directly linked to the (terrorist) operation and five suspected of having ties to the cell," the president's office said in a statement.

Authorities say as many as 3,000 Tunisians have gone to Iraq, Syria and Libya to fight in jihadist ranks, including with the IS group, raising fears of battle-hardened militants returning home to plot attacks.

The presidency said soldiers would be deployed to beef up security in major cities following the museum assault.

But "we are not under siege", a presidential source said.

As international outrage grew over the worst post-revolution attack in the cradle of the Arab Spring, President Beji Caid Essebsi vowed to fight extremists "without mercy to our last breath".

The leader of the Islamist opposition party Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi, said he was convinced that "the Tunisian people will stay united in the face of barbarity".

Appeals for unity

The media also called for solidarity, with newspaper La Presse appealing for "total unity and a sense of responsibility shared by all".

Panic had broken out as gunmen in military uniforms opened fire at visitors as they got off a bus and then chased them inside the museum.

The dead included three Japanese, two Spaniards, a Colombian, an Australian, a British woman, a Belgian woman, two French, a Pole and an Italian, Health Minister Said Aidi said.

He said a policeman was also killed but did not mention a second Tunisian victim initially reported by the authorities.

Dozens more people were wounded in the assault, in a massive blow to Tunisia's heavily tourism-dependent economy.

At least two major cruise ship operators suspended stopovers in Tunis following the attack.

After cowering in fear in the museum during the night, two Spanish tourists were discovered alive and well, officials said.

In a show of defiance, the government said the National Bardo Museum would reopen early next week.

Prime Minister Habib Essid named the two gunmen killed by security forces as Yassine Abidi and Hatem Khachnaoui.

He said Abidi was known to the police.

Tunisia has seen an upsurge in Islamist extremism since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings around the region.

The museum assailants were "probably" Tunisian, the interior ministry said.

Nine of the slain tourists were from the MSC Spendida cruise ship, whose owners said a special psychologist unit had been set up for passengers.

MSC Cruises and Italian operator Costa Crociere said they would divert cruise ships which had been due to berth in Tunis.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2015-03-19

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