Nine suspects have been arrested following a gun attack on Bardo museum in Tunis that saw 23 people killed on Wednesday (18 March), including 20 foreign tourists. Tunisian authorities have announced that four of those arrested were directly implicated in the attack and five had “ties to the cell”. Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has meanwhile claimed responsibility for the brutal attack on Tunisia’s most famous museum, naming the attackers as Abu-Zakariya al-Tunisi and Abu-Anas al-Tunisi and praising them as two “knights of the caliphate”. The statement, posted on Twitter accounts often used for disseminating ISIS propaganda, described the attack as a “blessed invasion of one of the dens of infidels and vice in Muslim Tunisia”.
Tourists from Australia, Japan, Colombia, Poland and several other European countries were killed in the attack and more than 40 people were injured. In response to the bloody attacks on, what has become known as, ‘Black Wednesday’, the army has been deployed to major cities around Tunisia. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini blamed “terrorist organizations” for the attack who “are once again targeting the countries and peoples of the Mediterranean region.” She also stressed that “This strengthens our determination to cooperate more closely with our partners to confront the terrorist threat. The EU is determined to mobilize all the tools it has to fully support Tunisia in the fight against terrorism and reforming the security sector.”
Although the Islamic State (IS) does not control any territory in Tunisia, like it does in Syria, Iraq and reportedly also in Libya, around 3,000-5,000 Tunisians have gone to fight in the IS ranks, with an estimated 500 having returned – it is the latter that are often seen as a long-term liability for this North African country. Being the birthplace of the Arab Spring in 2011, though Tunisia is a modern, functioning state with a democratically elected government and trained police and security forces, IS would surely like to strengthen its influence in the country by exploiting any opportunity to plunge Tunisia into chaos and violence. Several factors could facilitate IS to achieve this objective, namely the unbaiting chaos in neighboring Libya, jihadists hiding on the border with Algeria, not to mention thousands of young, dissatisfied Tunisians who feel economically and politically disadvantaged.