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Gunmen Kill 19 People, Mostly Tourists, in Tunisia Museum Attack

Up to five gunmen stormed the Bardo art museum in central Tunis today, killing 19 people and injuring another 24. Tunisia's Prime Minister has described the attack as "heinous."

by Pierre Longeray
Mar 18 2015, 4:40pm

Foto por Salah Ben Mahmoud/AP

Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid has confirmed that 19 people were killed today when up to five gunmen stormed one of the most popular museums in North Africa.

The toll included 17 foreign tourists — including Italian, German, Polish, and Spanish citizens — while a Tunisian and police officer also died when the Bardo art museum in central Tunis was attacked by men wearing military uniforms and armed with Kalashnikovs. 

According to Essid, another 22 tourists and two Tunisians were also wounded in the incident in the Tunisian capital. France 24 reported that a hostage situation that also unfolded during the attack is now over and two gunmen responsible have been shot by Tunisian security forces.

Speaking after the end of the siege, the prime minister described the attack as "heinous," and said that an operation to locate potential accomplices was still underway in the capital. According to Essid, up to five gunmen were involved in the attack.

Tunisian police stormed the building two hours after the start of the incident, killing the two attackers and freeing the hostages, a government spokesperson told ReutersAccording to Tunisian radio station Mozaïque FM, a Tunisian law enforcement officer also died.

Witnesses in Tunis tweeted that tourists were being evacuated from the museum by police forces.

At the time of the attack, over 200 tourists were thought to have been in the museum, which sits close to the national parliament building. 

Pictures apparently taken inside the Bardo museum during the incident.

Shots were heard near the Tunisian parliament at around 12.30pm local time on Wednesday, officials told AFP, as deputies discussed anti-terrorism legislation with army representatives. The parliament was immediately evacuated and police officers were deployed in the surrounding area.

The gunmen are believed to have entered the museum through the adjoining parliament, which some say could have been the original target of the attack.

Speaking to Tunisian media, a local guide said that the gunmen had fired at close range and that the wounded tourists were transported to the Charles Nicolle hospital in Tunis.

The attack is one of the deadliest in Tunisia's recent history and comes 13 years after the 2002 Ghriba synagogue bombing, an attack claimed by al Qaeda, which left 19 people dead on the Tunisian island of Djerba.

Ever since the popular uprising that set off the Arab spring and overthrew the government of long-standing ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, northwest Tunisia has weathered and foiled several terrorist attacks, masterminded by Ansar al Sharia and other extremist Islamist groups.

Officials announced on Tuesday that top Islamic State (IS) commander Ahmed Al-Rouissi has been killed in Libya near the city of Sirte. Al-Rouissi, who was also known as Abu Zakariya Al-Tunisi and was reportedly a leader of Ansar al Sharia, was one of the most wanted men in Tunisia. Officials believe he could have masterminded a deadly 2013 attack against two members of the country's opposition.

Tunisia's president Beji Caid Essebsi broke his silence on the attack on Wednesday afternoon, on his way to visit the injured in hospital. In an address broadcast on Tunisian network TTN1, Essebsi described the attack as "a catastrophe," and vowed to "wipe these [terrorists] off the map."

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray