(Transcript by World News Radio)
The self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack at Tunisia’s national museum that killed 23 people, including an Australian man.
In an audio message posted online, the group has threatened more attacks, warning what took place in Tunis is just the beginning.
Manny Tsigas reports.
(Click on audio tab to listen to this item)
Tunisian officials say one of the two gunmen who stormed the famed Bardo National Museum in an attack aimed at international tourists was known to intelligence agents.
The two have been identified as Hatem al- Khashnawi and Yassin al-Abidi.
No formal links to a particular armed group have been established.
But an audio recording purportedly from the self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed responsibility for what it calls “the blessed immersing operation”.
The recording goes on to praise the attackers.
(Arabic, then translated:) “We ask Allah to accept them among the martyrs and to grant them the highest rank of the Gardens of Paradise, and to make us join them both.” (Arabic …)
Tunisian authorities say they have arrested four people directly linked to the attack, along with five others with indirect ties.
Two family members of one of the gunmen are reportedly among them.
Tunisian prime minister Habib Essid says an investigation is underway — with increased security deployed to major tourist areas.
(Translated) “Honestly speaking, we have very good leads. There have been arrests, but, once the operation is complete, we’ll have all our final results, which we’ll be ready to give you.”
The death toll from the massacre now stands at three Tunisians, including the gunmen, and 20 tourists, including dual Australian-Colombian national Javier Camelo.
Mr Camelo had been celebrating his university graduation by taking a cruise around the Mediterranean with his parents.
After docking in Tunis, the trio decided to visit the Bardo museum.
Mr Camelo was killed along with his mother.
His father survived.
Javier Camelo had also been working as an analyst for American Express in Sydney.
His colleague, Fran Fan, says he will be remembered as a caring, responsible and trustworthy person.
“He loved talking about his family and his parents and brother. Sometimes, we’d joke around, ‘You’re going all over the place, but you still make time to visit your parents.’ It cost a lot of money, but he said, every year, he makes sure he has time to go back to Colombia to visit his family. He was such a young age. I’m sure he had a brilliant future.”
Meanwhile, two Spanish tourists have been found alive after hiding inside the museum for more than 24 hours.
Police and consular officials had spent all night looking for Juan Carlos Sanchez and his pregnant wife, Cristina Rubio.
Mr Sanchez explains they were simply too scared to move — or even use their mobile phones.
(Translated) “We were leaving the museum, and we saw how they were shooting people by the door. When we realised what was happening, we hid in a room where they stored rubbish. We stayed there listening to everything, waiting for it to stop.”
The attack also appeared to be aimed squarely at Tunisia’s economy.
Tourism accounts for 7 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
But since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, militant dissent has been on the rise.
Bochra Belhaj Hmida is a legislator from Nida Tunis, the country’s secular-majority party.
She says the dissent has become so serious that there could be as many as two thousand militants in sleeper cells across the country.
(Translated) “We believe most of them have returned from Iraq or Syria, so these are, more or less, the numbers we’re talking about. There aren’t exact numbers, because there’s no list of everyone who’s gone to places like Syria or Libya. So they can come back and lead these kinds of operations.”
Demonstrators have continued to gather outside the museum in a show of defiance against the militants.
And the Tunisian government says it intends to show it will will not be intimidated by reopening the museum.