Tunisia – the North African democracy bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and Libya – has long been troubled by Islamist terrorism. Today, terror struck its capital city when gunmen killed at least 19 tourists at an art museum:
Attackers opened fire 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 wasn’t 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.
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.
Tunisia recently completed a rocky road to democracy after overthrowing its authoritarian president in 2011, seen by many as the start of the so-called Arab Spring. The country has been more stable than other countries in the region, but has struggled with violence by Islamic extremists in recent years, including some linked to the Islamic State group. It also has extremists linked to al-Qaeda’s North Africa arm who occasionally target Tunisian security forces.
A disproportionately large number of Tunisian recruits — some 3,000, according to government estimates — have joined Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.