March 23, 2015 / 10:33 AM / 5 years ago

Tunisia's premier fires six police commanders after museum attack

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid fired six police commanders on Monday, including the head of tourist security, after a militant attack on the national museum last week in which 20 foreign visitors were killed.

Tunisia's Prime Minister Habib Essid attends the first meeting of the new government at the government palace in Tunis February 9, 2015. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

The premier’s office spokesman, Mofdi Mssedi, said the six also included an intelligence brigade chief, the Tunis district police chief, the traffic police commander, a Bardo Museum security chief and a commander for the capital’s Sidi Bachir district.

“Prime Minister Habib Essid visited the Bardo Museum yesterday and took note of several security failures there,” Mssedi said.

Militant gunmen killed 20 foreign tourists, including Japanese, Polish, Italian and Spanish visitors, last Wednesday as they got off buses at the Bardo Museum, inside the parliament compound that is normally heavily guarded.

It was the worst attack in more than a decade in Tunisia, testing the North African country’s young democracy four years after the revolt that overthrew autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and opened the way for free elections.

One police officer working at the museum had been arrested for abandoning his post during the attack, local radio and media reported. Officials did not immediately confirm the arrest.

Japan’s Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Kazuyuki Nakane visited Tunisia on Monday to discuss the case with Tunisia’s foreign minister.

“We gave our condolences for the families of the Japanese victims,” Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche told reporters outside the Japanese embassy in Tunis.

Foreign dignitaries have been invited to Tunis on Sunday to participate in a march against terrorism in the same way that France brought world leaders to Paris after the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine by Islamist militants in January.

Another demonstration is also planned for Tunis on Tuesday when the Bardo Museum will reopen.

Two gunmen were shot dead at the scene in Tunis and authorities say they are looking for a third suspect. They have so far arrested more than 20 people, 10 of whom officials believe were directly involved in the attack. Some had recently returned from fighting for Islamist militant groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Islamic State militants fighting in Iraq and Syria claimed that their supporters carried out the attack although a local al-Qaeda affiliated group known as Okba Ibn Nafaa has also published details and comments on the assault.

Tunisia has been largely spared the violent aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, with secular and Islamist parties overcoming their divisions to compromise, approve a new constitution and hold free elections.

Hardline Islamist groups also emerged after the revolt against Ben Ali swept away his one-party rule. Since then security forces have been caught up in a growing battle with militants, some of whom are returning from training and fighting overseas.

Authorities say the two gunmen killed in the Bardo attack had trained in jihadi camps in Libya after they were radicalized in local mosques by militant recruiters. More than 3,000 Tunisians left to fight in Syria and Iraq and hundreds have returned, creating a security risk for authorities.

Reporting by Tarek Amara, Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Sophie Walker

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