23 suspects arrested over Tunisia museum attack: Minister

TUNIS (AFP) - Tunisia said on Thursday that it had arrested 23 suspects in connection with last week's militant massacre at the country's national museum.

"Twenty-three suspects, including a woman, have been arrested as part of a terrorist cell" involved in the attack, Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli told journalists, adding that "80 per cent of this cell" had been broken up. All of those arrested were Tunisians, he said, adding that another Tunisian, two Moroccans and an Algerian suspected of being members of the cell were on the run.

The Tunisian, Maher Ben Mouldi Kaidi, was previously identified as a suspect and is alleged to have provided the automatic weapons to the two gunmen who shot dead 21 people - including 20 foreign tourists - at the Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18.

The minister said the operation was organised by an Algerian militant named Lokmane Abou Sakhr, one of the leaders of the Al-Qaeda-linked Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, the main Tunisian armed group active along the border with Algeria. Responsibility for the attack was claimed however by Al-Qaeda's rival, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"At this stage we cannot name (the group responsible)," Mr Gharsalli said. "What is certain is that there are links with Okba Ibn Nafaa."

French President Francois Hollande will travel to Tunis on Sunday to take part in a "march against terrorism" in the wake of the Tunis attacks that killed 21 people, his office said. "At the invitation of President Beji Caid Essebsi, the president of the republic will go to Tunis for the 'grand republican march against terrorism' organised by the Tunisian authorities," Mr Hollande's Elysee Palace office said in a statement.

In an attack claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, gunmen swooped on Tunisia's national museum, killing 20 foreign tourists and a policeman.

A planned reopening of the Bardo museum was cancelled on Tuesday at the last minute, with museum officials suggesting it was because of "security" issues and the government speaking of unfinished work at the site.

Officials have admitted there were security failures on the day of the attack on the complex, which is next to Tunisia's Parliament.

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