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‘Strong’ evidence links Bardo Museum, Tunisia hotel attacks

Police stand on July 3 on the Tunisian beach that was the site of a deadly gun attack.
Police stand on July 3 on the Tunisian beach that was the site of a deadly gun attack. Fethi Belaid, AFP | Le 3 juillet, la police sillonne la plage tunisienne où a eu lieu l'attaque.
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British police said Wednesday they were investigating links between an attack on a Tunisian hotel in June that left 38 people dead, including 30 British nationals, and an attack that killed 22 at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March.


Counter-terrorism officers with Britain’s Metropolitan Police, better known as Scotland Yard, have been helping Tunisian authorities with the investigations. They now say their efforts have led them to focus on links between the attack in the coastal city of Sousse on June 26 and the one that targeted the Bardo Museum in the Tunisian capital on March 18.

Commander Richard Walton of the Metropolitan Police told reporters on Wednesday that he could not provide details of the connections but said it was based on "strong" evidence.

“We are now linking, evidentially, the Bardo Museum investigation in Tunisia, that attack, with the Sousse investigation,” Walton said.

"While I cannot go into further details regarding this live investigation, I can confirm that a team of officers, led by a senior detective from the Met's Counter-Terrorism Command, are working closely with the Tunisian authorities on both investigations and we have advised the coroner of the connection between the two," Walton said.

The jihadist connection

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

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

Police are still searching for a third suspect in connection with the museum attack. Authorities have released a photo of the suspect they say aided Yassine Laabidi, 20, and Hatem Khachnaoui, 26, in a shooting spree that left 22 dead, including 19 foreigners and a policeman.

And this is not the first time that officials have acknowledged links between the Tunis museum and the Sousse resort hotel.

The Sousse gunman, Tunisian student Seifeddine Rezgui, was killed by police in the aftermath of the shooting spree. Tunisian officials later said that he had trained in Libya.

“Rezgui had training in Libya at the end of 2014," prime ministerial spokesman Dafer Neji told Reuters in July. ""He was trained during the same time in Libya as the Bardo attackers.”

Rezgui arrived at the beach resort by sea on a jet ski or speedboat, pulled out a Kalashnikov hidden in a parasol, and opened fire on the holidaymakers relaxing on the beach of the Hotel Imperial Marhaba. He then entered the hotel and shot several more tourists before running out of the front of the hotel, where police shot and killed him.

The Islamic State militant group later hailed the attack and referred to Rezgui by a nom de guerre, Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani. The Islamist group said he was a "solider of the caliphate" who had targeted the enemies of the jihadist group and "dens [of] fornication, vice and apostasy".

Tunisia declared a state of emergency following the Sousse attack.

Tunisia’s terrorism problem

Prime Minister Habib Essid revealed last month that 1,000 people have been arrested and 15,000 prevented from fighting jihad abroad since the double attacks on Tunisian venues popular with tourists.

The UN said in July that it estimates some 5,500 Tunisians have joined the ranks of jihadists abroad and urged Tunis to adopt a "national strategic plan" to stem the tide. Of these, about 500 have returned to Tunisia and are under surveillance.

Tunisians now make up the majority of jihadists moving abroad to fight. And Tunisian officials say they cannot face down the threat by themselves.

"We note that Tunisia faces an international movement," Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said in June. "It cannot respond alone to this."

Tunisia's jihadist problem is exacerbated by the chaos in neighbouring Libya, which has become lawless and flooded with weapons since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Regions of the fractious country are now ruled by rival militias and the lack of a functioning central government has allowed the Islamic State group to establish a foothold.

A lack of effective border controls has made the country a route for weapons shipments to al Qaeda branches in sub-Saharan Africa as well as a travel corridor for Syria-bound jihadists.

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