Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said security “failures” had helped facilitate the deadly attack on the country’s national museum claimed by the Islamic State group that killed 20 foreign tourists.
“There were failures” which meant that “the police and intelligence were not systematic enough to ensure the safety of the museum,” Essebsi told Paris Match weekly in an interview published on Saturday.
Twenty-one people, all but one of them foreign tourists, were killed when two armed assailants stormed the National Bardo Museum in the capital, Tunis, on Wednesday last week.
The security forces “responded very effectively to quickly put an end to the attack at the Bardo, certainly preventing dozens more deaths if the terrorists had been able to set off their suicide belts,” Essebsi was quoted as saying on the Paris Match Web site.
First Deputy Speaker of the Tunisian Assembly of the Representatives of the People Abdelfattah Mourou had told reporters on Friday that guards who were supposed to be protecting the museum and the nearby parliament building were having coffee at the time of the assault.
The president’s comments came as Tunisian authorities said there were developments in the probe.
“There are developments in the case, but to protect the secrecy of the investigation, we prefer not to provide any details,” prosecution spokesman Sofiene Sliti told reporters.
However, Tunisian Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ali Aroui said “more than 10 people have been arrested for direct or indirect involvement in the attack, among them people who provided logistical support.”
He declined to say whether they included nine people already reported arrested, including the father, sister and two brothers of one of the suspects killed by police officers in the attack, Jabeur Khachnaoui.
The minister also said that an arrest warrant had been issued for a Tunisian named Maher Ben Mouldi Kaidi for his suspected involvement in the attack, without elaborating.
A police source and a friend of Khachnaoui said the suspect’s relatives had been freed, but Aroui would not confirm that.
On Wednesday, the two suspects allegedly targeted tourists visiting the museum, killing 21 people, including a Tunisian policeman.
The dead tourists were four Italians, three Japanese, three French, two Spaniards, a Colombian, an Australian-Colombian, a British woman, a Belgian woman, three Poles and a Russian.
Chadli Dziri, chief of surgery at the Hospital Charles Nicolle in Tunis, said that of 43 people wounded, there were still concerns about the prognosis for one: a Frenchwoman shot in the stomach and the leg.
Dziri said that many people were shot as they fled, because they had been hit in the back.
The Islamic State group claimed that it was behind the attack and threatened more.
Authorities said the suspects had trained in Libya, where the extremist group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is thought to have training camps.
Tunisia has seen a rise in Muslim extremism since the 2011 revolution that ousted former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The brother of the other assailant, Yassine Laabidi, expressed shock that he was dead, “that he was involved in this; none of us in the family can understand.”
He described Yassine as a “bon vivant” who “enjoyed a drink with friends and would joke around with everyone. He had no complex whatsoever.”
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