Jihadist chief killed as thousands march in Tunisia
Tunisia said it killed the leader of the jihadists accused of organising the massacre at its national museum, as thousands took to the streets Sunday in a march against extremism.
Tunis: Tunisia said it killed the leader of the jihadists accused of organising the massacre at its national museum, as thousands took to the streets Sunday in a march against extremism.
Authorities said Lokmane Abou Sakhr -- an Algerian who was singled out as the organiser of the museum attack -- was killed along with at least eight others from the notorious Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade.
Officials had accused Abou Sakhr and his group of organising the attack on the Bardo Museum that left 21 foreign tourists dead, despite a claim of responsibility from the Islamic State group.
Tunisian forces "were able yesterday (Saturday) to kill the most important members of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade including its head Lokmane Abou Sakhr," Prime Minister Habib Essid told reporters.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui earlier told AFP that security forces had killed "nine terrorists" in an operation in the west-central area of Sidi Aich against Okba Ibn Nafaa.
"We are very pleased... the nine were among the most dangerous terrorists in Tunisia," he said.
Authorities say Okba Ibn Nafaa has been behind a series of attacks on security forces that have left some 60 dead since late 2012.
Some 12,000 people set off on Sunday for the march "against terrorism" in Tunis, waving Tunisian flags and chanting: "Tunisia is free! Terrorism out!"
The march was to go from Tunis`s Bab Saadoun Square to the museum, where a stone tablet was to be dedicated to the memory of the 21 foreign tourists and Tunisian policeman killed in the attack.
President Beji Caid Essebsi hosted foreign dignitaries including his counterparts from France, Francois Hollande, and Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, as well as Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Algeria`s premier, Abdelmalek Sellal, as well as the foreign ministers of Spain, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, and the Netherlands, Bert Koenders, were also expected.
The dead tourists were from Italy, Japan, France, Spain, Colombia, Australia, Britain, Belgium, Poland and Russia.
Officials have described the attack as "a big blow" to Tunisia`s crucial tourism industry, seen as key to reviving the economy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
President Essebsi had called for a huge turnout for the march to the museum, which is due to reopen to the public on Monday.
Tunisia has seen an upsurge in Islamic extremism since overthrowing longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but has taken pride in forming a democratic government since the Arab Spring -- in marked contrast to countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda main opposition party called on its supporters to join the march "as an expression of Tunisian unity in the face of this danger and of their determination to defend their country and... preserve their freedom".
The country`s powerful UGTT trade union also urged its supporters to take part "massively" in the march.
The march in Tunis echoes a similar anti-extremism demonstration in Paris after the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and a kosher supermarket.