Tunis: The radical Islamic State Group claimed responsibility today for the attack on a famed Tunis museum that left 23 people dead, scores of tourists wounded and upended the country's struggling tourism industry.
Defying the extremists, hundreds of Tunisians rallied today at the National Bardo Museum, stepping around trails of blood and broken glass to proclaim their solidarity with the victims and with Tunisia's fledgling democracy.
One person carried a sign saying "Tunisia is bloodied but still standing." Tunisian security forces, meanwhile, arrested nine people, the president's office said, adding that five of them were directly connected to yesterday's attack on the Bardo by two gunmen who were later slain by police.
The other four suspects who were arrested in central Tunisia were part of a cell supporting those involved in the attack, the statement said.
Prime Minister Habib Essid told France's RTL radio that Tunisia was working with other countries to learn more about the slain attackers, identified as Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui.
He said Laabidi had been flagged to the intelligence agency, although not for "anything special." Yesterday's attack was the worst at a tourist site in Tunisia in more than a decade and prompted a leading Italian cruise ship line to announce it was canceling all stops in Tunisia indefinitely.
The deaths of tourists will create oceans of trouble for the country's tourism industry, which brings throngs of foreigners every year to Tunisia's Mediterranean beaches, desert oases and ancient Roman ruins, and which had just started to recover after years of slump.
Two major cruise ships whose passengers had been among the victims left the port of Tunis early today. Razor wire ringed the museum entrance today and security forces guarded major thoroughfares in Tunis, the capital.
Culture Minister Latifa Lakhdar gave a defiant press conference in the museum, where blood trails still stained the ground after tourists were gunned down amid the Roman-era mosaics.
"They are targeting knowledge. They are targeting science. They are targeting reason. They are targeting history. They are targeting memory, because all these things mean nothing in their eyes," she told reporters.
"There is only their reactionary, very backward and sclerotic ideology." Later in the afternoon, authorities opened the gates of the museum for a rally in defiance of the bloodshed. About 500 people held a moment of silence amid the shattered glass before singing the national anthem.