TEANECK, N.J. — At least 21 people were killed and 47 others were wounded in an attack on a museum in Tunisia last month. Two gunmen, disguised in civilian uniforms, stormed the National Bardo Museum in the Mediterranean country’s capital, Tunis, on March 18.
Most of the victims were foreign tourists from Italy, Japan, Poland, France, Spain, Colombia, Russia, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.
In addition to them was an officer of the Antiterrorism Brigade (BAT), a Tunisian elite unit responsible for SWAT and tactical operations related to counterterrorism.
The two culprits, Tunisian nationalists who were allegedly trained by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya, were later killed by police.
Soon after the attack, ISIS claimed responsibility for the act.
Identified as Hatem Al Khachnawi, 27, and Yassin Laabidi, 20, the attackers are from the cities of Kassrine and Tunis respectively. They left the country last December to get trained on how to use weapons such as Kalashnikovs, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The two terrorists then came back to the country secretly through the borders with Libya, police said. They couldn’t be tracked down at the time due to the vastness of the desert between both countries, but they were both killed by the police after an organized raid on the museum.
Officials said they recognized one of the attackers as he had been arrested in the past. But since there is no law that allows institutions to arrest basing on one's ideology, the detained had to be released.
Both terrorists were assisted by a group of gangs during the attack. Police later identified and arrested one person who helped the attackers acquire weapons and another who drove them to the museum.
Tunisian Secretary of State for Security Rafik Chelly said the police and the BAT were quick to intervene. They arrived at the scene within 15 minutes. The whole operation lasted for two hours and 20 minutes, which is considered a record-breaking speed for Tunisian armed forces, Chelly said. Their priority was to make sure the tourists held hostage were let go safely out of the place. One officer, Aymen Morjen, was killed while doing so.
On March 29, more than 10,000 demonstrators marched to the museum in Tunis, rallying against terrorism. Among the demonstrators were families, civil society members and political activists.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi headed the demonstrators alongside his counterpart French President François Hollande. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also participated, showing support for the cause. Prior to the march, Tunisia’s Ministry of Interior Security announced that eight terrorists had been killed in Gafsa the previous night. One of them, Lokmane Abou Sakhr, who was the chief of a jihadist group, is suspected to have led the attack on the museum.
Tunisia, the only country that was able to create a lasting post-revolutionary democracy following the Arab Spring, is considered by many an example to be followed in the region. The deadly attack is another proof that ISIS aims to destabilize the region and create chaos. It has targeted tourism, which is considered a vital booster of Tunisia’s economy. The country’s Minister of Tourism Salma Rekik Elloumi remained optimistic, even though fears that this sector would be greatly affected by the attack were expressed by several Tunisians.
The attack is considered the bloodiest since the 2002 bombing of the Ghriba synagogue, which cost the life of 19 victims.
“Terrorism is an international phenomenon, not a Tunisian one,” a Tunisian activist told the BBC during the march. “There should be solidarity and unity between us [all] to fight terrorism.”
cartoon credit: Western Journalism website/Cagle cartoons 2014