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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Tunis: Attack on Tunisian museum leaves 21 dead, hunt for gunmen (...)

Tunis: Attack on Tunisian museum leaves 21 dead, hunt for gunmen continues

Wednesday 18 March 2015, by siawi3


Agencies, Tunis
Updated: Mar 18, 2015 22:44 IST

Attackers opened fire on Wednesday at a major museum in Tunisia’s capital, gunning down 17 tourists as dozens more sprinted to safety. At least 21 people in all were killed, including two gunmen, but some attackers may have escaped, authorities said.
The attack on the famed National Bardo Museum in Tunis was the first on a tourist site in years in Tunisia, a shaky young democracy that has struggled to keep Islamic extremist violence at bay.
It was not clear who the attackers were but security forces immediately flooded the area. Tunisia’s parliament building, next to the museum, was evacuated.
Private television Wataniya showed masked Tunisian security forces escorting dozens of tourists up nearby steps and away from the danger, as armed security forces pointed guns toward an adjacent building.
Many elderly people, apparently tourists, ran in panic to safety, including at least one couple carrying two children.
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said 21 people were killed: 17 tourists, two gunmen, a Tunisian security officer and a Tunisian cleaning woman. He said the dead tourists came from Italy, Poland, Germany and Spain.
Alleged photos of hostages inside #Tunisia museum #terrorism
He said two or three of the attackers remained at large.
Several other people were reported wounded in the attack, including three Poles and at least two Italians. The Italian Foreign Ministry said 100 other Italians had been taken to a secure location.
Some of the Italians at the museum were believed to have been passengers aboard the Costa Fascinosa, a cruise liner making a seven-day trip of the western Mediterranean that had docked in Tunis.
Ship owner Costa Crociere confirmed that some of its 3,161 passengers were visiting the capital on Wednesday and that a Bardo tour was on the itinerary, but said it could not confirm how many passengers were in the museum at the time.
The cruise ship recalled all the passengers to the ship and was in touch with local authorities and the Italian Foreign Ministry.
The attack was a strong blow to Tunisia’s efforts to revive its crucial tourism industry.
The National Bardo Museum, built in a 15th-century palace, is the largest museum in Tunisia and houses one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics among its 8,000 works.
The museum is near the North African nation’s parliament, 4 kilometres from the city center. A new wing with contemporary architecture was built as part of a 2009 renovation, doubling the surface area.
Increasing radicalisation
An army offensive against the jihadists, who are linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has been underway since 2012 but the ground and air campaign has failed to eliminate them.
The country is also fighting against the radicalisation of Muslim youth, with authorities saying as many as 3,000 Tunisians have gone to Iraq, Syria and neighbouring Libya to fight in jihadist ranks, including with the Islamic State group.
Some 500 are now believed to have returned to Tunisia.
Essebsi said the government’s “top priority” is “providing security and the battle against terrorism” after it took office last month following Tunisia’s first free elections.
Tunisia kicked off the Arab Spring with its overthrow of Ben Ali and, despite the continued unrest, has taken pride in forming a stable and democratic government.
The country is hoping to rebuild its once-burgeoning tourism industry, which is struggling to recover from the effects of the 2011 revolution.
Tourist arrivals dropped by three percent last year.
The Bardo museum, renowned for its exceptional collection of ancient mosaics, is a significant draw and opened a new wing in 2012 following a major facelift.
It boasts objects from prehistory, the Phoenician period and Punic and Numidian times, as well as Roman, Christian and Islamic artifacts.
Its curator had described it as “the flagship” of Tunisia’s heritage.
Housed in a former palace dating from the 19th century, the museum greeted hundreds of thousands of visitors every year before the revolution. In 2011 the number dropped to about 100,000 but attendance had been recovering.