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Thousands of Tunisians take to streets to denounce Bardo museum attack


umbertino
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Country in shock and president declares ‘war on terror’ after two gunmen kill 17 tourists and two Tunisians at Bardo national museum

 

 

Chris Stephen in Tunis

 

Thursday 19 March 2015 10.20 GMT

 

 

More protests against the deadly attack at Tunisia’s Bardo national museum are planned for Thursday, as the Tunisian PM said one of the two gunmen was known to security services.

 

The country is in shock after two Tunisian gunmen killed at least 17 tourists and two Tunisians on Wednesday in the deadliest attack on civilians in the country for 13 years. The gunmen were shot dead by security forces.

 

In an interview with France’s RTL radio on Thursday morning, the prime minister, Habib Essid, said Tunisia is working with other countries to learn more about the attackers, identified as Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui.

 

He said Laabidi had been flagged to intelligence, although not for “anything special”.

 

In an address to the nation on Wednesday night, the newly elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi, said: “I want the people of Tunisia to understand firstly and lastly that we are in a war with terror, and these savage minority groups will not frighten us.

 

“The fight against them will continue until they are exterminated.”

 

Hours after the police ended the siege, thousands of Tunisians flocked to the capital’s main thoroughfare, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, waving red Tunisian flags and singing songs from the 2011 Arab Spring revolution.

 

Mohammed Nasri, a young activist, said: “After the last election we thought we made a big step forward to real democracy, but what happened today was like a KO to our future. An attack so close to our parliament makes us speechless.”

 

Tunisia’s main trade union confederation and other civil society groups called for a silent demonstration later on Thursday outside the Bardo museum. The groups called on Tunisians to gather at 3pm GMT “to demonstrate our national unity in the fight against terrorism”.

 

Authorities launched a manhunt for two or three accomplices in the attack. The gunman killed four Italians, three Japanese, two Colombians, two Spaniards, an Australian, a Pole and a French national. The nationalities of the other three murdered tourists were not confirmed, but reports said an unknown number of South African tourists may have been involved. Two Tunisian nationals also were killed by the militants.

 

At least 44 people were wounded, including tourists from Italy, France, Japan, South Africa, Poland, Belgium and Russia, the authorities said.

 

The targeting of tourists by terrorists is a new phenomenon in Tunisia and a big blow to a country whose struggling post-revolution economy depends largely on its beach resorts and foreign visitors. Tunisia, which peacefully elected a new parliament in December, has prided itself as a model of political transition since the overthrow of the brutal authoritarian Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, in contrast to the post-revolutionary difficulties of its troubled neighbours.

 

But it has also been struggling to tackle the growing terrorist threat in the region and thousands of Tunisians have left to fight foreign jihad. The attack immediately raised questions about the Islamist terrorist threat to Tunisia amid mounting anxiety that jihadi violence is spilling over the border from neighbouring Libya, as well as Algeria.

 

Wednesday night’s protests took place close to the French embassy, which has been ringed by barbed wire and concrete barriers for many months, a sign of the apprehension the city feels about the threat of terrorist attack.

 

That threat has become real with the killings at the Bardo museum, in what is the first jihadi strike against civilians in Tunisia since its 2011 revolution; previously militants had restricted attacks to military and government targets.

 

“Today’s murderous assault targeted not only tourists and Tunisians but also the tolerant and rights-respecting society that Tunisians have been struggling to build,” said Eric Goldstein of Human Rights Watch.

 

The dilemma for many Tunisians now is how the government should respond: many are proud of their break from dictatorship, but worry about how the government can crack down on terrorism while preserving hard-won freedoms.

 

“Everybody is shocked,” said Houeida Anouar, of Huffington Post Magreb. “The government now has a huge responsibility. I hated the state when you had no right., I don’t want Tunisians to go there, it would be a horrible back-pedalling.”

 

The attack began just after midday as gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs opened fire in front of the Bardo museum, the country’s largest and an important tourist attraction, which houses one of the world’s biggest collections of Roman mosaics and is built in a 19th-century palace adjacent to parliament. As the gunmen struck, tourists were getting out of coaches to visit the museum on a spring day that had seen scores of visitors, many from cruise ships docked in the port for the day.

 

Wafel Bouzi, a guide with a Spanish-speaking group, told journalists that on exiting the museum with his group, he saw in the car park “a young 25-year-old man, dressed normally, without a beard” who was holding a kalashnikov. “I thought he was playing with it. Then he opened fire.”

 

The gunmen began shooting near the coaches then entered the museum where hundreds of panicked visitors had taken refuge. Josep Lluís Cusidó, mayor of the small Catalan town of Vallmoll, was at the museum as part of a wedding anniversary trip with his wife. “A few men walked in and started shooting. We’re alive thanks to a miracle,” he told the Spanish news agency Efe. “These men suddenly started shooting and people started falling to the ground dead and things started falling from the ceiling … Everything happened so fast.”

 

Two Britons were “caught up in” the shootings, the British Foreign Office said, but did not specify whether they were among the dead or injured.

 

Wednesday’s attack was the worst since 2002, when an al-Qaida militant killed 21 people, mostly German tourists, after detonating a truck bomb in front of a historic synagogue on the Tunisia’s island of Djerba in 2002.

 

It came days after the death of Ahmed Al-Rouissi, a Tunisian also known as Abu Zakariya Al-Tunisi, who led a contingent of Islamic State fighters in Libya. He was killed in clashes with Libyan troops near the town of Sirte, a stronghold of followers of Muammar Gaddafi, the late Libyan strongman.

 

Tunisian commentators speculated there might be a connection between his death and Wednesday’s deadly attack. Pro-Isis Twitter accounts hailed the attack as “ghazwat Tunis” or the “raid of Tunis” (ghazwa is the description given to the early Islamic battles) and have cheered on the attackers. A purported Isis video from last December threatened attacks on Tunisia.

 

Last month, Tunisia arrested more than 30 suspected militants – some of whom returning from fighting in Syria – who were planning attacks, officials said at the time. Interior ministry officials said counter-terrorism forces had prevented attacks against vital installations, including the interior ministry and civilian buildings in Tunis.

 

Tunisia is a major source of fighters travelling to Syria, with the number of Tunisians fighting there estimated at about 3,000.

 

Tunisia has been more stable than other countries in the region, but has struggled with violence by Islamic extremists who have sworn allegiance to both al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report

 

 

 

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Protesters hold placards which read ‘no to terrorism’ as they gather on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis. Photograph: Chedly Ben Ibrahim/Demotix/Corbis

 

 

 

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A woman holds a placard which reads ‘We are all Bardo’. Photograph: Chedly Ben Ibrahim/Demotix/Corbis

 

 

 

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Escorted by security forces, rescue workers bring a stretcher to the Bardo museum on Wednesday. Photograph: Salah Ben Mahmoud/AP

 

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/19/tunisians-streets-denounce-bardo-museum-attack-war-terror

 

 
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