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Tunisia says Bardo Museum gunmen trained in Libya

US says attack tactics 'entirely consistent' with IS as president announces explosives found on gunmen
Tunisian police and special forces prepare to storm the Museum on Wednesday (AFP)

More information has begun to emerge about the two gunmen who killed 21 people in an attack on foreign tourists before themselves being killed by Tunisian security forces.

According to Tunisia's secretary of state for security, the pair - named by authorities as Yassine Abidi and Hatem Khachnaoui - are believed to have been trained in Libya.

"They left the country illegally last December for Libya and they were able to train with weapons there," Rafik Chelly told the private AlHiwar Ettounsi television channel.

Chelly also said that Abidi had been arrested before making his way to Libya, without providing details.

Wednesday's attack on the Bardo National Museum in central Tunis was the country's worst since the 2011 uprising that toppled strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The security chief said the two gunmen had been "from sleeper cells" present in several areas.

He named locations of several suspected training camps for Tunisians in Libya, including the second city Benghazi and the coastal town of Derna, which has become a stronghold for militants now loyal to the Islamic State.

The group has now claimed the Tunisia attack, saying that it was just the “first drop of the rain”.

The US has since said that it believes that the “tactics” used are “entirely consistent those previously adopted by IS", according to the White House.

"While we are not yet able to confirm the voracity of this claim, the tactics that we saw at the Bardo Museum would be entirely consistent with tactics that ISIL has previously used that show a blatant disregard and even a brutality for innocent civilians," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, using another acronym for IS.

Analysts, however, were quick to urge caution, saying it was still too early to tell who had masterminded the attack.

Initial reports by the Tunisian authorities said that the pair had no known terrorist ties. There have also been suggestions that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which on Tuesday released a video threatening to attack Tunisia, could have been behind the killings.

Imad Mesdoua, a political analyst at Africa Matters, who focuses on the North African region, told MEE: “Many people have jumped on the IS bandwagon ... but this could be premature.”

Mesdoua believes that the attack could have been carried out by various militant groups in Tunisia, or even lone wolves.

Authorities say as many as 3,000 Tunisians have gone to Iraq, Syria and Libya to fight in with groups such as IS or al-Nusra, raising fears of battle-hardened militants returning home to plot attacks.

"We know that there is a long border that Tunisia has with Libya, which is a rather unstable place right now," Earnest said. "We'll continue to be in touch with the Tunisians in the weeks and months ahead, as we talk about efforts that we can make to supplement their efforts to provide for security in their country."

Tunisian security forces have detained nine suspects, including four who are believed to have been directly involved in Wednesday's attack.

"We know they can launch operations but we must piece together clues in order to conduct an arrest," Chelly said late on Thursday.

Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi also told France's TF1 television on Thursday night that the two gunmen had been carrying a large quantity of explosives.

"We found terrible explosives on those people that they did not have time" to use them, Essebsi said.

The police’s rapid response prevented "a catastrophe," he added.

"The process of implementing a democratic system is underway, well anchored. We will never move backwards."

The initial deathtoll was cited as eight but soared after police stormed the museum. It is unclear whether the hostages had been killed before or during the raid.