Tunisia museum attack: Who’s behind it, what are their goals?

Dan Glazebrook
Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. It featured a collection of articles written from 2009 onwards examining the links between economic collapse, the rise of the BRICS, war on Libya and Syria and 'austerity'. He is currently researching a book on US-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today.
A tourist injured after an attack by gunmen on Tunisia's national museum is wheeled on a stretcher in Tunis March 18, 2015. (Reuters / Stringer)
Groups like IS, which could be behind the Bardo Museum shootings, have a long history of collaborating with the West and may have attacked tourists just to maintain their anti-Western façade, says independent political analyst Dan Glazebrook.

RT:Do you think that the Western tourists were targeted on purpose?

READ MORE:17 tourists, 2 locals slain in Tunis museum attack

Dan Glazebrook: Yeah, I think so. The thing is with ISIS and these groups - they have a long history of collaborating with the West. It’s fundamental to their appeal that they kind of try to present themselves as anti-Western. If you look over the last several years, they’ve been singing from the same song-sheet - whether it’s on Libya, the fight against Gaddafi; Syria, the fight against Assad. We’ve had revelations about fighters’ passage to Syria to go and fight against Assad being facilitated by MI5, by British intelligence. This all came out in the hearings in Mozambique last year. So these guys are on the same page, they are helping to fulfill the West strategic aims of destabilization in the area. … The thousands and thousands people they’ve killed, the vast majority of them have been other Muslims and non-white people. From time to time they have to kill some Europeans and some Westerners in order to maintain this façade of somehow being opposed to the West, whilst they continue to carry out and facilitate the West’s strategic aims.

Police officers are seen on the pavement outside parliament in Tunis March 18, 2015. (Reuters / Zoubeir Souissi)

RT:A large number of Islamic State fighters reportedly come from Tunisia. Why is that?

DG: It was estimated at one point that the actual majority of foreign fighters in Syria were of Tunisian origin, over 3,000… They’ve also fought in Libya; they’ve fought in terrorist campaigns in Algeria. There are many different reasons; part of it is a kind of extremist backlash against the extremist secularism of the previous President [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali and his predecessor [Habib Bourguiba]. But I think a lot of it is just simply to do with the economics and finances. There is very high unemployment in Tunisia. It is rumored that you can get up to $27,000 a year for going to fight for ISIS… Billions of dollars were put into these sectarian militias to build up these groups by Saudi Arabia and the USA as a bulwark against the resistance axis of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. These billions of dollars are still slushing around.

Sergio Altuna, researcher focusing on jihadist movements and political Islam in Tunisia: "I’m not sure at this point if the Bardo Museum was the main target of this terrorist operation... But given the fact that the Bardo Museum is just by the National Assembly another feasible possibility would be that a terrorist attack was aimed to attack the Assembly. It was working [Wednesday]; everybody was there - by the way, debating the new anti-terrorist law. Maybe security was too high… There is no clear information about it."

‘Attack might be publicizing Ansar al-Sharia's merger with ISIS’

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, also commented on the Tunis museum attack.

RT: No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. Who in your view is most likely to be behind it?

Brian Levin: The most likely would probably be Ansar al-Sharia which is a radical Salafist terrorist group which started in Tunisia shortly after the Tunisian revolution in January, 2011. It was formed three months later by a fellow named Abu Ayadh. That is the most likely suspect, although, ISIS affiliates are present in neighboring Libya as well.

RT:Do you think the attackers were pursuing any particular goal with this terrible assault?

BL: Yes, I would think that if it is Ansar al-Sharia or if Ansar al-Sharia is using this to publicize some kind of merger with ISIS - this would be the time and the place to do it. Tunisia, as I said, in an area where ISIS has been exporting its brand of radicalism. That is one thing - Tunisia is Western friendly and it has got a strong economy.

Sergio Altuna, researcher focusing on jihadist movements and political Islam in Tunisia: "As somebody who has been living [in Tunisia] for five years I pretty well know the situation…I encourage tourists to come to Tunisia, it is a safe place. I do not believe it is going to become very dangerous."

RT:Earlier, a warning for tourists had been issued calling on them not to visit certain areas. Is this kind of attack in Tunisia a rare event and just how dangerous is the country for travelers?

BL: There have been advisories put out about travel to Tunisia. Its biggest industries are in fact tourism and minerals. It is a democratic society and it is Western friendly. Its economy is strong [but] it relies on these exports and tourism. And an attack like this could really hurt the economy in a place where there is fragility with respect to the economic situation. Remember again, Tunisia was the success story of the Arab Spring. This is the time and the place where groups like ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia are trying to make radicalism an imprint there and in the neighboring countries as well.

A tourist injured after an attack by gunmen on Tunisia's national museum is wheeled on a stretcher in Tunis March 18, 2015. (Reuters / Stringer)

RT:The EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that IS was behind the attack. Do you believe that that is likely?

BL: It could be in a this sense to the extent that these actors had the same goal…Ansar Al-Sharia is allying itself with the al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa. The fact of the matter is it very well could be ISIS. ISIS does have an imprint in North Africa. One of the things that ISIS had wanted to do even when it was just AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] back in 2004, they wanted to export their terrorism to places like Jordan, and now has an imprint in places like Libya which neighbors Tunisia.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.