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ISIL claims responsibility for Tunisia museum attack

ISIL claim comes as authorities arrest nine for attack that left more than 20 dead

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) issued a statement Thursday claiming responsibility for the shooting attack that left 23 people dead, most of them foreign tourists, at Tunisia’s national museum a day earlier.

The statement described Wednesday's attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the capital, as a "blessed invasion of one of the dens of infidels and vice in Muslim Tunisia" and appeared on a forum that carries messages from the armed group.

It said that there were two attackers and that they were not killed until they ran out of ammunition.

The statement also promised more attacks.

"Wait for the glad tidings of what will harm you, impure ones, for what you have seen today is the first drop of the rain," said the statement, which was also announced by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors armed groups.

Tunisian officials said Thursday that nine people have been arrested in connection with the attack. Four of them are accused of having direct links to the Bardo attack, and the other five are accused of having links to those who carried it out, Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reported. 

Earlier, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid had said that one of the gunmen was known to intelligence services but that no formal links to a particular group have been established. In an interview with France's RTL radio, he said Tunisia was working with other countries to learn more about the attackers, identified as Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui. Both were killed in the ensuing raid by security services.

Tunisian troops arrested two of Khachnaoui’s family members, Reuters reported Thursday, citing a security source. It was unclear if the arrests were in addition to or among the nine arrests announced by Tunisian authorities earlier in the day. 

Essid said Laabidi had been flagged to intelligence, although not for "anything special."

Tunisia’s Health Minister Said Aidi said the death toll from the attack has risen to 23: 18 foreign tourists and five Tunisians, including Laabidi and Khachnaoui. Aidi said that nearly 50 people were wounded and that all the injuries were bullet wounds. He added that that several victims were brought in without identity documents.

Moncef Hamdoun, an official with the Charles Nicolle hospital, where many victims were taken, said seven of the dead remain unidentified. He listed the others who were slain as three Japanese women, a Spanish man and a Spanish woman, a Colombian woman, an Australian man, a British woman, a Belgian woman, a French man and a Polish man.

Tunisia has faced scattered extremist violence in recent years, and many Tunisians have joined ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq.

Twitter accounts associated with ISIL praised the attack. Ifriqiyah Media, which has aired claims from Tunisian hard-liners, posted what it said were details about the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online. The post calls on Muslims to attack tourists but does not say who orchestrated the attack. Legislator Bochra Belhaj Hmida of the secular majority party Nida Tunis told The Associated Press that about 2,000 suspected fighters are believed to be in Tunisia and that many of them joined extremists in Iraq or Syria and then returned home.

"They are in a situation of being lone wolves, where each of them is free to do the actions they want," she said. "These are people who are let loose with weapons and wherever they can strike, they will not forgo the opportunity."

Wednesday’s attack sparked outrage in Tunisia, with hundreds of people gathering late Wednesday in a major thoroughfare in Tunis, singing the national anthem and shouting slogans against the attackers, labeling them “terrorists.”

The main trade union confederation and other civil society groups announced plans for a silent demonstration today outside the Bardo Museum. 

Al Jazeera and wire services

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