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Investigation Continues Into Deadly Museum Attack In Tunis

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The self-declared Islamic State is claiming responsibility for yesterday's deadly attack in Tunisia. Gunmen killed more than 20 people - most of them, tourists - at the national Bardo museum in the capital, Tunis. Two attackers were killed, and nine people linked to the assault have now been arrested. Tunisia's president has vowed to wage a merciless war against terrorism.

Reporter Naveena Kottoor joins me for an update from Tunis. And Naveena, what more can you tell us about the Islamic State's claim and whether authorities believe it's credible?

NAVEENA KOTTOOR: Yes. These are claims, and the authorities are verifying it. I think what is important is to put this in a context. There have been reports that Tunisians have traveled to Iraq and Syria and have joined the ranks of ISIS - of the Islamic State. And in neighboring Libya, east of Tunisia, ISIS activity has been reported, and people have been very concerned about the fact that people might be traveling across the border, and that there might have been an exchange of jihadist activity between Tunisia and Libya.

BLOCK: Is there any more information coming out about the attackers who were killed and the nine people detained? First, are they Tunisian, and were they known to authorities?

KOTTOOR: Yes. The attackers have been identified as Tunisian nationals. We also understand - that's what the presidency has been saying - that nine people have been arrested in connection with the attacks. And it emerged today that one of the men who carried out the attack yesterday was actually known to the intelligence services, but they didn't think it was worth following up based on the information they had on him.

BLOCK: What does this attack say about the relatively peaceful transition to democracy in Tunisia after the Arab Spring? This was really seen as a success story. What about now?

KOTTOOR: I think we have to wait and see how the government handles this. As you pointed out, it was a success story, but it's a very young democracy, and there are quite a few challenges ahead to stabilize this democracy. And the government has its hands full. The population is expecting their lives to get better - to see that democracy can actually deliver. So for this to happen now is really incredibly bad timing.

BLOCK: We mentioned, Naveena, that the attackers largely targeted tourists, and tourism does make up a good chunk of Tunisia's economy. Are there a lot of fears now about what impact this will have on tourism in particular?

KOTTOOR: Yes, there are. We've seen the two cruise ships that brought the tourists who came under attack yesterday - they left this morning. Other two operators have suspended their trips to Tunisia. And I think we now need to wait and see what the foreign governments do in terms of their travel advice.

BLOCK: And I gather there was a rally at the museum itself today, a place that's still stained with blood, littered with glass.

KOTTOOR: Yes, there have been rallies for the last 24 hours. We've seen rallies on Avenue Bourguiba and, as you said, outside the museum where I spent most of the time today. And people were coming out wrapped in Tunisian flags. They were waving the Tunisian flag. Sometimes they were singing the national anthem and saying that terrorism has no place in Tunisia and that after chasing out dictatorship, they now want to chase out terrorism. It's been very heartwarming to see this, and I think it just illustrates how shocked people are.

BLOCK: I've been speaking with Naveena Kottoor, a reporter based in Tunis. Thanks very much for talking with us.

KOTTOOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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