ISIS Has Been Calling for Terrorist Attacks in Tunisia for Some Time Now

March 18, 2015 Updated: March 18, 2015

Following the deadly terrorist attack at a Tunisian museum on March 18, speculation has invariably led to ISIS.

There have been fears that terrorists with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, returned to Tunisia and carried out the shootings leaving about 20 dead, including 17 foreigners, at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, the country’s capital. ISIS terrorists have made threats against Tunisia since late last year.

SITE, a monitoring group that was the first organization to publish some of ISIS’s brutal execution videos, wrote on Wednesday afternoon that ISIS had been calling for attacks in Tunisia for a while now. “If this attack was carried out by the Islamic State [ISIS], it didn’t come from out of nowhere,” stated SITE Director Rita Katz. “Islamic State officials, supporters, and fighters have been urging for an attack in Tunisia in the group’s name for a while now.” 

Thousands of Tunisian men have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS. According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, around 3,000 Tunisians are currently fighting for ISIS—more than any other country outside of Iraq and Syria—and about 500 of them have returned home in recent months.

So far, no terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the Tunis attack.

On March 15, ISIS posted a video of a fighter in Raqqa, Syria, giving advice to fighters from Boko Haram, saying terrorists in Tunisia should be more like Boko Haram.

“While we do not yet know who carried out the attack,” added Katz. “Islamic State supporters celebrating the attack have expressed less-than-subtle implications that their group was involved.” 

It was the worst attack on a tourist site in Tunisia in years, and comes as the country is trying to establish democracy and keep Islamic extremists at bay.

Authorities said assailants opened fire on the National Bardo Museum on Wednesday, killing tourists and a cleaning woman and wounding several others. Security forces later stormed the museum, killing two gunmen and a security officer. At least two or three other accomplices may be at large. The identities of the gunmen were not disclosed.

In the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, Tunisia made the most successful transition to democracy. The country recently had presidential and parliamentary elections and a successful transition of power—unlike fellow Arab Spring countries including Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

But ISIS recruiters have sought to take advantage of the country’s newfound political freedom, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, abusive police, high youth unemployment, and economic disruptions have made Tunisia a top spot for ISIS recruits.

Tunisian security forces secure the area after gunmen attacked Tunis' famed Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015. At least seven foreigners and a Tunisian were killed in an attack by two men armed with assault rifles on the museum, the interior ministry said. AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID        (Photo credit should read FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)
Tunisian security forces secure the area after gunmen attacked Tunis’s famed Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015. At least seven foreigners and a Tunisian were killed in an attack by two men armed with assault rifles, the interior ministry said. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

Last December, Tunisian ISIS terrorists were seen in a video that was being circulated through social media issuing a warning to the Tunisian government, saying that “as long as Tunisia is not governed by Islam,” there will be threats.

ISIS-associated social media accounts were again spreading the video around on Wednesday as the Tunisia terrorist attack was taking place, which the Times termed as a celebration of “the attack as a fulfillment of that warning.”

Tunisian officials on March 17 announced that they broke up terrorist cells and arrested 22 extremists who were recruiting for Libyan terrorist organizations, reported Al-Arabiya TV. The Tunisian Ministry of the Interior said that the “terrorist network is collaborating with dangerous Tunisian terrorists active in Libya, and working to supervise training camps with their counterparts from different countries.”

The attacks were universally condemned by U.S. and European officials on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s deadly terrorist attack at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis” and offered his condolences to families of the victims.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.