Tunisian authorities have arrested 23 Tunisians in connection with last week's deadly attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the country's Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli has revealed.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Gharsalli said police had 80 percent of the suspected terror cell that allegedly carried out the attack in custody, including one woman. Four suspects — another Tunisian, an Algerian and two Moroccans — are still at large, he said.
Twenty-one people, including 20 foreign tourists, were killed in the attack — the deadliest in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution, which saw a series of violent protests leading to the ouster of then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
On Thursday, Tunisia's Interior Ministry released a video of the Tunisian police intervention during the museum attack. The video, which was also posted to the ministry's Facebook page, shows Tunisia's elite BAT squad en route to the museum in two police vehicles.
The video shows officers entering the building and assisting wounded visitors and later a shot of the two gunmen's bodies, lying in a pool of blood, their weapons beside them.
Gharsalli said Thursday that authorities had determined that the attack was masterminded by an Algerian jihadist, Lokmane Abou Sakhr, who heads the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade — a branch of al-Qaeda. These latest revelations question the role of the Islamic State (IS) militant group, which previously claimed responsibility for the attack in an audio message released March 19.
"For the purpose of propaganda, publicity, the Islamic State praised this act," interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui told AFP. "But on the ground, it was Okba Ibn Nafaa, which belongs to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who planned and carried out this crime."
AQIM has not contested IS's claim on the attack, which would be the group's first offensive on Tunisian soil. According to Tunisian radio Mosaïque FM, the cell responsible for the attack was divided into four units that were each separately involved in surveillance, execution, planning, and security.
The Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, a group affiliated with Islamist militant organization al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is considered to be one of the most dangerous militant groups currently operating in Tunisia. Based in the mountainous region at the border between Tunisia and Algeria, the group is known for targeting the Tunisian military. In July, the organization killed 15 Tunisian soldiers in an attack on Mount Châambi.
On Monday, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid fired six police commanders, including the head of tourist security and the Bardo security chief, citing several "security failures." Two of the museum guards on duty during the attack were on "a coffee break" when the gunmen entered the building.
The museum was reopened to only the media Tuesday, but will officially open its doors to visitors as of Sunday — the same day French president François Hollande will join Tunisian officials in Tunis, to take part in a "grand Republican march against terrorism."
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