Gunmen Storm Tunisian Museum, Killing 19 People – Wall Street Journal

Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gunmen stormed a popular museum in Tunisia’s capital on Wednesday, leaving 19 people dead, including 17 tourists, in a rare attack that cast a pall over one of the Arab Spring’s few success stories.

Security forces retook control of the museum, killing two attackers, while three gunmen remained at large, Prime Minister Habib Essid said in detailing the casualty toll.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche, speaking in Paris, later said one suspected gunman has been detained.

About 200 tourists were visiting the Bardo National Museum, located near Parliament in central Tunis, when the armed men charged into the building, an interior ministry spokesman said. Besides the 17 tourists, one museum staff member was killed. A Tunisian security officer was killed in the firefight when police stormed the museum.

The prime minister said the tourists hailed from France, Spain, Poland, England and Italy, adding that most were able to escape with the help of security forces.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, French President François Hollande drew parallels between Wednesday’s violence in North Africa and the terror attacks that have shaken the capitals of France and Denmark in recent months.

“We are all affected. That is as true in Tunis today as it was in Copenhagen,” Mr. Hollande said.

Wednesday’s attack on one of Tunisia’s most popular tourist sites sent tremors of fear through the capital. Tunisia has made a largely successful democratic transition since a popular revolt unseated the longtime autocratic regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.


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In December, Beji Caid Essebsi was swept into office as Tunisia’s first freely elected president following a campaign during which he promised to restore security in the nation of 11 million that has been facing a low-level radical Islamist insurgency on its frontiers with Algeria and Libya.

Tunisia’s interior ministry has said the small nation accounts for some 3,000 of the foreign fighters who have joined radical groups fighting in Iraq and Syria, making it the largest contributor of any nation.

Tunisian political leaders quickly condemned Wednesday’s attack, warning that it shouldn’t be allowed to unravel the gains the nation has made since 2011. About 12% of Tunisia’s gross domestic product relies on tourism, which saw a dramatic dip since 2011 but has recently begun to recover, with a 24% increase in tourism income in 2015 compared with 2010.

Ennahda, the Islamist political party that initially dominated successive regimes during Tunisia’s post-2011 transition and now controls the second-largest share of seats in Parliament, said it was “horrified by this attack and strongly condemns all acts of violence against Tunisia and its visitors.”

A Tunisian security official said the attack unfolded at about noon local time, when gunmen attempted to storm the national assembly building but were repelled by guards. The attackers then fired on several tourist buses bound for the nearby Bardo National Museum, the official said.

Security forces returned fire, sending the gunmen racing into the museum where they it is believed they took hostages, the official said.

Jamila Jouini, a member of Parliament from Ennahda, said the attack “is a big threat to the democratic process if it is confirmed the target was the assembly building.”

Souhail Alouini, a lawmaker from Nidaa Tunis, the party that has a plurality in Parliament and was established by Mr. Essebsi, said the attack is likely to initiate a review of national-security procedures and is a blow to tourism.

“This is dangerous,” he said. “It shouldn’t result in a threat to democracy but it is going to make the situation harder.”

The Spanish foreign ministry said at least one Spanish citizen was killed.

The Italian foreign ministry confirmed that two Italian tourists were wounded in the attack, while Tunisian forces ushered another 100 to safety. The Italians had arrived in Tunis aboard cruise ships and were being transported to the museum aboard three buses, the ministry said.

Members of the Tunisian police force take up a position near the country's parliament after gunmen stormed the National Bardo Museum site in Tunis, Tunisia.
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U.S. officials weren’t aware of any Americans being among those killed or injured, said Carina Klein, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Tunis.

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the “deadly terrorist attack,” while commending the Tunisians’ response and pledging U.S. support. The U.S. often has cited Tunisia as a model of success in the political transitions that have swept Arab countries in recent years.

The U.K. foreign office said it couldn’t confirm whether any British citizens were among the casualties in the attack and said through a spokesman it was urgently looking into the situation.

Write to Tamer El-Ghobashy at tamer.el-ghobashy@wsj.com

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