18 Mar 2015

Tunisia attack: siege over leaving more than 20 dead

Security forces kill two Islamic militants who attacked the Bardo museum next to parliament as country’s prime minister says 17 foreign tourists dead – and the death toll may be higher.

Tunisian counter-terrorist forces have ended the siege in the museum, killing two Islamist militants who had taken hostages. But the death toll is much higher than previously thought.

Tunisia’s prime minister, Habib Essid, said 19 people were killed, including 17 tourists from Italy, Germany, Spain and Poland. Another 22 tourists and two Tunisian men were injured. He did not mention the two Britons who were earlier thought to have been killed.

Latest reports said the death toll may be even higher.

An operation is under way to find those who had helped the gunmen, the prime minister said.

A police officer was reportedly killed in the raid, as was a female Tunisian who worked as a museum cleaner, although Essid did not confirm this.

The two gunmen attacked Tunisia’s parliament building and the nearby museum.

A French tourist called Geraldine spoke to French television station iTELE. Clearly distressed, she described how she was hiding in a room on the third floor with about 40 people having heard a lot gunfire. She confirmed that more than one attacker was involved.

As she spoke on the live programme, further loud gunfire was audible within the Bardo museum.

According to Charlie Winter from the Quilliam Foundation, which monitors extremism, an Isis supporter said there would be further attacks.

Earlier, “a terrorist attack targeted the Bardo Museum,” interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui told local media.

Most tourists were evacuated but some were still believed to be inside, Aroui said, adding that security forces had entered the museum.

British, Italian, French and Spanish nationals were among those taken hostage, according to local radio.

The museum has one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics, as well as displaying Tunisia’s history.

Exchanges of gunfire first rang out from the parliament building around midday, TAP state news agency reported.

Tunisia’s armed forces are fighting Islamist militants who emerged after the country’s 2011 uprising against Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Several thousand Tunisians have also left the country to fight for militant groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and the government is worried about returning jihadis carrying out attacks at home.

The country is next to the failed state of Libya, which has become a prominent base for Islamic extremists.