Seventeen tourists, including two Spaniards, were killed on Wednesday in a gun attack against the Tunisian parliament.
Two Tunisian citizens, including one police officer, also died in a shootout between security forces and three armed terrorists in the heart of Tunis, the Tunisian Interior Ministry confirmed. Two of the attackers were killed in the standoff and another was arrested.
A group of tourists who were being held hostage inside the nearby Bardo Museum, where the armed men fled, were freed at around 3.30pm local time after Tunisian law enforcement officers stormed the building.
In a statement to the nation, Tunisian Prime Minister Habid Essid confirmed that some of the dead tourists hailed from Spain, Poland, Italy and Germany.
The Tunisian Prime Minister confirmed that some of the dead hailed from Spain, Poland, Italy and Germany
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo said later Wednesday that two Spaniards had been among those killed, but declined to reveal their names out of respect for their families. “We cannot rule out that there are more dead or injured,” he told reporters.
Essid condemned the “cowardly attack” and promised that his government would fight “tirelessly” against terrorism. President Beji Caib Essebsi visited the wounded at a crisis center set up following the attack.
The operation remains ongoing, as security forces are looking for “two or three” individuals who may have assisted the assailants, the prime minister added.
Witnesses told Spanish news agency EFE that the attackers emerged from a mosque located between the building that houses the Tunisian Parliament and the Bardo Museum, which share a wall. The gunmen first shot at a bus filled with tourists, then ran into the museum. The Tunisian parliament, which is adjacent to the museum, was immediately evacuated.
The gunmen first shot at a bus filled with tourists, then ran into the museum
“We saw four armed terrorists,” said Mona Brahim, a deputy from the moderate Islamist party An Nahda, who was inside the building at the time of the attack. “There were a lot of shots and now they are in the garden, they were unable to enter the building.”
According to government sources, the security team at the parliament realized that the armed men, who were wearing uniforms, were not carrying regulation weapons but instead had Kalashnikovs, France Presse reported.
When the men were told to stop, a gunfight broke out, during which the alleged attackers managed to flee toward the museum, a major tourist destination in Tunisia.
Once National Guard troops and local police arrived on the scene the area was cordoned off, while ambulances arrived to treat the wounded and remove the bodies.
Tunisia has seen a recent rise in jihadist activity in the Kasserine region, on the border with Algeria
Security agents near the Bardo Museum said one of the attackers, a 22-year-old student, was arrested, and the other two shot down.
Tunisia has seen a recent rise in jihadist activity in the Kasserine region, on the western border with Algeria. The mountainous area is used by local radicals, as well as similar groups from the neighboring country.
Since 2012, dozens of Tunisian national guards have been killed or wounded in Mont Chambi, the scene of the worst Islamist attack against Tunisian forces in July, which caused 15 deaths.
In mid-February, four National Guard officers from Tunisia died in an attack by alleged jihadists in the Kasserine region, considered to be one of the key areas of radical Islamist cells allied with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.