Tunisian president says hunt on for third man in museum attack
A third attacker in the deadly assault on the National Bardo Museum in Tunisia is still on the run, the country’s president said Sunday, but he “won’t get far.”
President Beji Caid Essebsi said the Wednesday attack at the museum in Tunis – which left 23 dead -- involved "three aggressors" and the third man escaped. He was speaking live with French network iTele from inside the museum, its elaborate tilework visible behind him.
"There are two who were executed and one who is on the run somewhere. But in any case, he won't get far," Essebsi said.
Tunisia's Interior Ministry released security camera footage of Wednesday's attack showing two gunmen walking through the museum, carrying assault rifles and bags. At one point they encounter a third man with a backpack walking down a flight of stairs. They briefly acknowledge each other before walking in opposite directions.
Police responding to the attack shot and killed the two gunmen. They were identified as Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui, both Tunisians in their 20s who had trained in Libya, according to the New York Times.
After breakfast Wednesday morning, Laabidi had left home to go to his job making deliveries for a local business, his father Arbi told The Associated Press outside the family's home in the neighborhood El Omrane at the edge of Tunis.
Later that day he joined up with Khachnaoui and shot dead 21 people at the renowned museum — including a Tunisian security agent who had recently become a father.
In El Omrane — a poor neighborhood that has proven fertile ground for jihadi recruiters — a mourning tent has gone up in front of the Laabidi home, where the family is still trying to come to grips with the fate of a young man they said "liked the good life."
"We want to know who transformed him, who brainwashed him so that he went to kill innocent people. We have to find the people who are sending our children to death and setting our country adrift," said his brother, Khaled.
Anna Tounsia, a neighbor who knows the family well, said she mourns the loss of young Laabidi as well as the victims of the attack.
"Yes he killed. We're sad for those who died, sad for the security agent who was killed and left a child," Tounsia said. "Find the people who did this. Go to the mosques, monitor them."
Authorities have said Laabidi and Khachnaoui had slipped across the border to Libya in December to reach one of many militia training camps there
Essebsi said the extremists who have recruited about 3,000 Tunisians to fight in Iraq and Syria have no credible connection to Islamic belief. He said his country was at war with them.
"When war is brought upon us, we will wage war," he said.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack Thursday. But social media accounts linked to an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in Tunisia have also published purported details on the museum siege, Reuters reports.
Since the attack, Tunisian authorities have arrested more than 20 suspected militants in a nationwide security sweep.
"There is a large-scale campaign against the extremists," Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said.
On Saturday, hundreds of people and government ministers gathered for a mass in Tunis, lighting candles to remember the victims.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.