Armed attackers stormed the Bardo Museum in Tunis yesterday, killing 19 people, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid announced. The dead include 17 tourists from Japan, Italy, Colombia, Australia, France, Poland and Spain. Two victims, one of them a police officer, were Tunisian nationals.
A museum employee reported that the two attackers “opened fire on the tourists as they were getting off the buses before fleeing into the museum.” Security forces stormed the museum in reaction and killed two gunmen. “We have not established the identity of the two terrorists… Reports are not final, these two terrorists could have been assisted by two or three other operatives,” added the prime minister, as security operations were still underway.
In an ironic twist of fate, the Tunisian parliament was debating new anti-terrorism laws at the time of the attack. The parliament building, evacuated after the attack, is also next door to the site. The Bardo is Tunisia’s largest museum, housed in a 15th century palace and displaying over 8,000 works, some dating back over 40,000 years.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi reacted to the shocking event, “We are in a war against terrorism… we will fight them without mercy.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the country has been rocked by terrorism. In 2013, a suicide bomber killed 22 people when he detonated himself at a beach resort. In 2014, Tunisia reported a total of 45 people killed by terrorist attacks. This year already saw four police officers killed in February.
Authorities believe that all attacks were carried out by Islamic militants, who have continuously attempted to destroy Tunisia’s fragile post-Arab Spring democracy. Tunisians make up at least 3,000 of the foreign jihadists that have joined ISIS in its bloody campaign in Syria.
The attack should prove to be a major blow for local tourism, a staple of the Tunisian economy. Within a few hours of the attack, anti-terror demonstrations were held in central Tunis on Wednesday, with crowds waving flags and condemning the attack.
Condolences and statements of support came from the European Union and United States Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that the US would “support the government’s efforts to advance a secure, prosperous, and democratic Tunisia.”