On March 18, three armed men in military uniforms opened fire on buses gathered outside the Bardo National Museum in the Tunisian capital and proceeded to continue the attack inside the building, killing 23 people, including 19 foreigners and wounding around 40. ISIS has taken responsibility for the attack, and claims it was an effort to oppose democracy in Tunisia, and that it was carried out by “two knights of the caliphate.” The attack was the deadliest terrorist action since the 2002 truck bombing in Djerba, which killed 21 people, including tourists. The Tunisian government is treating the attack as an act of terrorism.
The gunmen entered the museum while various security guards were on break, and were able to walk in unquestioned. The Tunisian government has apologized for this irresponsible breach of security, and is working to prevent and fight back against any future attacks. President Beji Caid Essebsi ordered that troops be deployed to the country’s major cities for protection.
In the past year as ISIS gained power across the Middle East, thousands of young Tunisians went to Libya to train for fighting in Iraq and Syria. However, some ended up coming home armed and radicalized by the extremist group. Yet, despite extreme Islamist’s efforts to take over Tunisia, both secular and Islamic political groups alike have been adamant that such extremism as demonstrated in the attack is absolutely not welcome in their country.
Politician Rached Ghannouchi acknowledges the threat that the current situation in Libya presents to Tunisia, admitting that “if the situation in Libya isn't resolved, Tunisia will remain under attack.” However, he is still adamant that the government will do whatever they can to oppose extremist’s actions: “There is no place for Daesh in Tunisia," said politician Ghannouchi, using the more derogatory Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Furthermore the head of the moderate Islamist party Ennahda commented that “Tunisia's long-established state and our freedoms will prevent extremists from seizing territory and establishing themselves here.”
The Vatican has responded in solidarity with the statements of the Tunisian government. The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a telegram on behalf of Pope Francis to the Archbishop of Tunisia the day following the attack. Pope Francis called it “an act against the peace and sacredness of human life.” He said he unites in prayer, “to the suffering of the families (of the victims) and to all those affected by this tragedy, as well as to the entire Tunisian people. The Pontiff closed the letter by asking the Lord to “welcome the deceased in peace, and comfort those who were injured.”
Though action is being taken to prevent future attacks, the Islamic State still represents a serious threat to Tunisia, as it becomes increasingly active in Libya and the surrounding region.