Tunisia begins manhunt for third gunman

TUNISIAN security forces yesterday begun a manhunt for a third attacker in the assault on the Bardo museum that killed 21 people.

President Beji Caid Essebsi laying a wreath at the entrance of the National Bardo Museum. Picture: AFP/Getty
President Beji Caid Essebsi laying a wreath at the entrance of the National Bardo Museum. Picture: AFP/Getty

President Beji Caid Essebsi told a French TV channel yesterday the attack involved “three aggressors” and the third man had escaped.

Tunisia’s interior ministry released security camera footage of Wednesday’s attack showing two gunmen walking through the museum, carrying assault rifles and bags.

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They encounter a third man with a backpack walking down a flight of stairs. They briefly acknowledge each other before walking in opposite directions.

The footage was accompanied by two stills, said to show the bodies of the two gunmen – named as Yassine Laabidi, 20, and 26-year-old Hatem Khachnaoui. Both men were killed after the assault.

The two Tunisians trained in neighbouring Libya and left in December, Rafik Chelly, the country’s secretary of state, said days after the attack. Mr Essebsi said security “failures” helped facilitate the attack on the museum, the deadliest in the north African country since the 2002 suicide bombing in Djerba.

“There were failures” which meant that “the police and intelligence were not systematic enough to ensure the safety of the museum”, the prime minister said. He added that there were as many as 10,000 young Tunisian “jihadists” in total.

He said: “Among the often desperate young unemployed, the call to jihadism has worked – 4,000 Tunisians have joined jihad, in Syria, Libya and elsewhere, and some 500 have already come back here, where they pose a threat. That is not to mention the 5-6,000 others we have succeeded in preventing from leaving.”

Only one of the 21 killed was Tunisian, the rest were tourists shot when the gunmen stormed the museum last Wednesday, in an attack which the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for, although authorities said they had not established any link with armed groups.

Mr Essebsi said the country’s security forces “responded very effectively to quickly put an end to the attack on the Bardo, certainly preventing dozens more deaths if the terrorists had been able to set off their suicide belts”.

A senior Tunisian politician on Friday said the guards supposed to be protecting the museum and the nearby parliament were having coffee at the time of the assault.

“I found out there were only four policemen on security duty around the parliament [compound], two of whom were at the cafe. The third was having a snack and the fourth hadn’t turned up,” deputy speaker Abdelfattah Mourou said.

Authorities on Saturday launched a crackdown against terrorists, arresting more than 20 suspects in a nationwide security operation.

Ten of those arrested are believed to be directly involved in the Bardo attack, an interior ministry spokesman said ­yesterday.

He added: “There is a large-scale campaign against the extremists.”

The ministry released a photograph of another suspect and appealed for help in finding the man. The government plans to deploy the army to major cities to improve security following the shootings, officials said.