The attack on Tunisia’s national museum has prompted a chorus of international outrage. Tunisia’s prime minister says two gunmen opened fire on tourists, killing at least 17. The Australian Government has confirmed a dual Australian-Colombian citizen is among those killed, and joined in the international condemnation of the attack.
ELEANOR HALL: The overnight attack on Tunisia’s national museum, which killed at least 17 people, most of them foreign tourists including an Australian, has prompted a chorus of international outrage.
Tunisia’s prime minister said two gunmen opened fire on tourists as they got off a bus outside the museum, then chased them inside.
The Australian Government has confirmed that a dual Australian-Colombian citizen is among those killed.
The brazen daylight assault has raised new security fears in Tunisia – the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
Barney Porter has the latest.
BARNEY PORTER: The Bardo Museum is close to the Tunisian Parliament and a magnet for tourists who contribute so much to the local economy.
Hundreds of people were already inside the building when the gunmen attacked.
WITNESS (translated): We were visiting the museum and suddenly we heard big noises.
At first we thought it was a statue falling but bit by bit we realised it was gun shots.
There were four of us. We also found a couple with children and we didn’t know what to do.
BARNEY PORTER: Security forces quickly surrounded the complex, and stormed inside two hours later killing several gunmen, and freeing hostages they had taken.
Witness Simon Cordell spoke to the BBC.
SIMON CORDELL: We saw the SWAT team come out to enormous cheers from the smaller crowd as it was then and even journalists and then they took the hostages in ambulances out through a different exit.
BARNEY PORTER: Tunisian officials say 17 people were killed and more than 40 others were wounded.
The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, says consular officials have now confirmed a dual Australian-Colombian citizen, who was a resident of New South Wales, is among the dead.
Tunisia’s president, Beji Caid Essebsi, remains defiant.
BEJI CAID ESSEBSI (translated): We want to send our condolences to the families of the victims.
The Tunisian people must understand that we are at war with this barbaric minority and we will not be lenient.
BARNEY PORTER: Tunisia is known as the birthplace of the Arab Spring after an uprising in 2010 toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s successful revolt against a long-time autocrat inspired similar uprisings in neighbouring Libya, and in Egypt, Syria and Yemen.
Tunisia subsequently emerged as a model of compromise politics and transition to democracy for the region.
Its adoption of a new constitution and the staging of largely peaceful elections has since won widespread praise but stands in stark contrast to the chaos that has plagued those countries.
However, several Islamist militant groups have also emerged in Tunisia since the uprising.
Authorities estimate about 3,000 locals have joined the fighting in Iraq and Syria raising fears they could return and mount attacks at home.
The foreign minister, Taieb Baccouche, says the timing of the attack on the museum was particularly significant.
TAIEB BACCOUCHE (translated): It came at the same time as the Tunisian parliament was discussing a new law against terrorism.
The terrorists deliberately chose this time to mount their operation.
They meant to strike at the houses of parliament, and then they realised they couldn’t do it there, and so they attacked the weakest point which is tourists, and the museum was next to the parliament.
BARNEY PORTER: Journalist Youssef Gaigi has told Al Jazeera Tunisians have been shocked by the first terrorist assault in capital.
YOUSSEF GAIGI: All previous attacks that happened in the past happened in military areas near the borders but such attacks never got to Tunis.
Now people feel that this is very close to them and people went out in the streets tonight to protest against, against such barbaric attacks.
BARNEY PORTER: It’s also drawn strong condemnation from world leaders.
The French president, Francois Hollande, has expressed “solidarity” with Tunisia, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, has denounced what he’s termed the “wanton violence” and the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon has condemned what he’s called a “deplorable” attack.
Hundreds of Tunisians have since rallied in the city.
Among them was Ahmed Benisse.
AHMED BENISSE (translated): I hope that the entire world will be united so no one talks of Islamism, but fundamentalist terrorist Muslims.
There is no clash of civilizations, but a war by lost people against the Islamic civilization, the Western civilization, the world civilization.
ELEANOR HALL: That’s Tunisian resident Ahmed Benisse, ending that report by Barney Porter.