Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Tunisian Museum Attack
TUNIS, Tunisia - The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Thursday for the attack that killed 21 people at a museum. But Tunisian authorities said the two slain gunmen had no clear links to extremists, and analysts said existing militant cells are merely being inspired by the group, rather than establishing its presence across North Africa.
Police announced the arrest of five people described as directly tied to the two gunmen who opened fire Wednesday at the National Bardo Museum. Four others said to be supporters of the cell also were arrested in central Tunisia, not far from where a group claiming allegiance to al-Qaida's North African branch has been active.
Tunisians stepped around trails of blood and broken glass outside the museum to rally in solidarity with the 21 victims - most of them foreign tourists from cruise ships - and with the country's fledgling democracy. Marchers carried signs saying, "No to terrorism," and "Tunisia is bloodied but still standing."
Analysts cautioned against seeing every such attack as evidence of a well-organized, centrally controlled entity spanning the Middle East, saying instead that small groups could merely be taking inspiration from the high-profile militant group.
"I think (the Islamic State) is probably taking credit for something it may not have played a role in," said Geoff Porter, a security analyst for North Africa.
The extremist group appears to be trying to raise its profile by associating itself with attacks around the region.
Confronted with a poor economy, young Tunisians have disproportionately gone abroad to fight with extremist groups in Libya, Syria and Iraq, including some affiliated with the Islamic State. Upon their return home, some may have decided to carry out attacks on their own.
Tunisian authorities have estimated that of the 3,000 young people who left the country to fight with radical groups, about 500 have returned.
"It could have been people who fought with the Islamic State or were inspired by it," said Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank. "Some guys may have come back, not liked what the government is doing, and attacked the tourist industry to hurt the economy - a classic move."
Tunisia is particularly vulnerable to such attacks because its economy has struggled since 2011.
At a news conference Thursday, Prime Minister Habib Essid announced new security measures around the country, including a crackdown on websites seen as promoting terrorism.
The deaths of so many foreigners will damage Tunisia's tourism industry, which draws thousands of foreigners to its Mediterranean beaches, desert oases and ancient Roman ruins. The industry had just started to recover after years of decline.
Two cruise ships that had 17 passengers among the dead quickly left the port of Tunis early Thursday, citing safety concerns, and the vessels' operators suspended visits to the country.
Culture Minister Latifa Lakhdar gave a news conference at the museum, where blood still stained the floor amid the Roman-era mosaics.
"They are targeting knowledge. They are targeting science. They are targeting reason. They are targeting history. They are targeting memory, because all these things mean nothing in their eyes," she told reporters.
In the afternoon, authorities opened the gates of the museum for a rally in defiance of the bloodshed. About 500 people - some carrying flowers for the victims - held a moment of silence before singing Tunisia's national anthem. Participants included black-robed lawyers, families with children, and teenagers swathed in the red-and-white Tunisian flag.
A funeral was held for Aymen Morjen - an elite member of Tunisia's security force who was killed at the museum. Interior Minister Mohamed Najem Gharsalli and House Speaker Mohamed Ennaceur attended the service.
It was among the museum's Roman-era mosaics that the militants dressed in military uniforms and armed with grenades and assault rifles took hostages and began shooting the foreigners.
"Suddenly, we started to hear the gunshots, so we all tried to escape and all of us tried to save ourselves as best we could," said Bruna Scherini, an Italian who arrived by cruise ship. She told Sky TG24 from her hospital bed: "We tried to hide behind the exhibits and in the corners where there was a little hiding place."
A Spanish man and a pregnant Spanish woman who survived hid in the museum all night in fear. Spain's foreign minister said police searched all night before Juan Carlos Sanchez and Cristina Rubio were found Thursday morning by security forces.
Dr. Samar Samoud of the Health Ministry said six of the dead foreigners remained unidentified. She listed the rest of the foreign victims as three from Japan, three from France, two from Spain, and one each from Australia, Colombia, Britain, Poland, Belgium and Italy.
militant: adj.斗志昂扬的，富于战斗性的； 激进的，好战的
fledgling: adj.刚开始的； 无经验的
radical: adj.基本的； 激进的
mosaic: n.马赛克； 镶嵌图案； 镶嵌工艺