Tunisia Museum Attack Meets Islamic State M.O

The attack on Tunisia’s famed Bardo Museum possesses all the hallmarks of a Islamic State attack. A small number of attackers, possibly in military dress, opened fire on a bus filled with western tourists, before following  fleeing tourists inside the Museum and taking them hostage. Two gunmen were reportedly killed by Tunisian authorities, while another two or three attackers may have escaped (early reports are always suspect, and the tendency in mass shootings is for witnesses to overestimate the number of attackers.) Over twenty people, mostly western tourists, were killed.

The attack quickly brings to mind several recent Islamic State-linked attacks, which also featured small team assaults against highly visible but comparatively soft targets likely to include Westerners but often in close proximity to actual government sites. Bardo is not far from the Tunisian Parliament.

For example, the IS attack against the Corinthia hotel in Tripoli, Libya, targeted “diplomatic missions and crusader security companies,” but was also the residence of the Prime Minister for the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Libyan Dawn faction.

Also comparable is the Kouachi Brothers violent storming of the Charlie Hebdo offices, targeting for death the satirical magazine’s editors and writers. While the Kouachi brothers claimed association with Al Qaeda, Islamic State prominently highlighted the attack, and the role of played by Kouachi confederate and Islamic State devotee Amedy Coulibaly in the release of Dabiq 7, the would-be Caliphate’s online magazine.

Tunisia has long been a base of recruitment for the Islamic State, as multiple media sources have pointed out.  Islamic State has been attempting to highlight its influence in the small North African state, by claiming responsibility for the assassinations of Tunisian leftist politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohammed Brahmi according to a video by long time jihadist militant Boubakr Hakim, released in December. Hakim is believed to have been responsible for the assassinations, together with recently slain Islamic State leader Ahmed Rouissi, recently killed in fighting with Libyan Dawn forces. Hakim, a member of Ansar al-Sharia before joining Islamic State had ties to the same French jihad recruitment network that produced Coulibaly and Kouachi. There have been claims the hits were carried out by Ansar al-Sharia on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood Ennahda party, with Al Qaeda-affiliated Abdel-Hakim Belhadj serving as broker. Belhadj himself has also recently been accused of aligning with Islamic State.

Given the preexisting Libya-Tunisia networks that Islamic State appears to have inherited, we can expect to see more such attacks.

About Kyle Shideler

Kyle Shideler is the Director of the Threat Information Office (TIO) at the Center for Security Policy. Kyle works to inject serious research and analysis on the subject of Islamic terrorism and Shariah law into the beltway policy discussion, by challenging false assumptions and providing fully documented resources, primary research and influential talking points to policymakers, journalists, and foreign relations professionals. Kyle has previously served as a Director of Research and Communications, Senior Researcher, and Public Information Officer for several organizations in the field of Middle East and terrorism policy since 2006. He is a contributing author to “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network: America and the West’s Fatal Embrace,” and has written for numerous publications as well as briefed legislative aides, intelligence and law enforcement officials, and the general public on the threat posed by Islamist influence and penetration operations.