Tunisia PM fires police chiefs as third Bardo gunman still on the run

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Tunisian authorities blame the turbulence in neighbouring Libya for the upswing in violence and uncertainty

Security has been stepped up in Tunisia in the wake of the deadly Bardo Museum attacks (SFP)
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Monday 23 March 2015 13:16 UTC
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Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid has fired police chiefs for the capital and the area of the national museum after last week's attacks on foreign tourists, the government said on Monday.

"He [Essid] visited [the area around the museum] last night and saw several deficiencies. So he has decided to fire a number of officials including the Tunis police chief and the police chief for the Bardo" area that includes the museum, Essid's communications director Mofdi Mssedi told AFP.

The sackings come a day after President Beji Caid Essebsi announced that authorities were still on the hunt for a third suspect and admitted that there were security failures ahead of last Wednesday’s attack. Twenty foreign tourists and a policeman were killed in the assault, later claimed by the Islamic State group.

"Definitely there were three," Essebsi told France media iTele television and Europe 1 radio.

"Two were killed, but there is one who is now on the run," he said. "In any case, he will not get very far."

On Saturday, authorities released CCTV footage showing two black-clad gunmen with automatic weapons walking unimpeded though a large lobby in the Bardo, just after noon.

The grainy footage then shows the gunmen passing an unidentified male. They point an automatic weapon at him briefly before letting him leave as they make their way up a staircase.

After rampaging through the museum for several hours, the two gunmen were killed in an assault by security forces.

Secretary of State for Security Rafik Chelly said on Sunday on the website of French weekly Paris Match that the third person in the video was "one of the two Vespa drivers that brought the killers," and that he wanted to leave because of the police response.

"The drivers and other logistics people from the cell, a total of 15 people, are already behind bars," Chelly added. The interior ministry had earlier said more than 10 people were arrested. 

The Interior Ministry said on Saturday it had issued an arrest warrant for Maher Ben Moudli Kaidi, a Tunisian suspect described as a "dangerous terrorist element".

According to Chelly, Kaidi coordinated the attack.

Officials have admitted that guards tasked with protecting the museum and the nearby parliament were having coffee at the time of the assault.

Essebsi acknowledged that more could have been done to prevent the attack, which raised fears for the lucrative tourism sector that represents 8 percent of Tunisia's gross domestic product (GDP).

Museum curator Moncef Ben Moussa told AFP on Sunday the Bardo would reopen on Tuesday and that all of its artefacts were "intact".

Essebsi admitted "there were failures" in the country's security mechanism, in an interview with Paris Match.

"The police and intelligence were not systematic enough to ensure the safety of the museum," Essebsi told Paris Match.

But he also insisted his security forces were quick to respond after the attack and to prevent further deaths.

"We were there 10 minutes later," he later told iTele and Europe 1.

Essebsi also vowed that an anti-terrorism law "will be voted rapidly", adding: "Libya is one of our problems."

Officials said the Bardo gunmen had trained in neighbouring Libya, where IS has militant camps and is battling local militia for control of the country's oil wealth.