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Tourists killed in ‘jihadist’ attack on Tunis museum

Tunisian special forces get ready to storm the museum
Tunisian special forces get ready to storm the museum Camille Lafrance, RFI

At least 19 people were killed in Tunisia Wednesday when gunmen stormed the capital’s Bardo museum, sparking a three-hour hostage crisis, in one of the worst militant attacks in a country that had largely escaped the region's "Arab Spring" turmoil.

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A total of 19 people, mpst of them foreign tourists, were killed in the attack at the Bardo museum in Tunis, according to the Tunisian interior ministry.

Five Japanese and two French citizens, as well as visitors from Italy, Germany, Poland and Spain were among the dead in the noon assault on the museum inside the heavily guarded parliament compound in the centre city.

"They just started opening fire on the tourists as they were getting out of the buses ... I couldn't see anything except blood and the dead," the driver of a tourist coach told journalists at the scene.

Scores of visitors fled into the museum and the militants took hostages inside. Security forces entered around two hours later, killed two militants and freed the captives. A police officer was reported to have died in the operation.

‘Unacceptable provocation’

“It is an unacceptable provocation,” Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi told FRANCE 24 just hours after security forces stormed the museum.

Essebsi denied that the attack was connected to the chaos in neighbouring Libya, but warned of jihadist “sleeper cells in Tunisia”.

“Tunisia will respond as one man,” he said.

Essebsi added that his government had “taken measures” to prevent any new attacks after Wednesday’s assault.

"All of the authorities have been informed and I hope such a disaster will not happen again," he told reporters as he visited victims of the attack in a Tunis hospital.

"I hope that the means available to us will become more efficient," he said.

He described the attack as a "horrible crime" and said he had assured the wounded of "our support, our sympathy and our regrets that such a thing has happened".

Huge blow for tourism

The attack on such a high-profile target is a huge blow for a country that relies heavily on European tourism and has so far avoided major militant violence since its 2011 uprising to oust autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Video footage of the hostage-taking showed tourists running for shelter as armed police units surrounded the Bardo museum, aiming rifles into the air.

The museum is known for its collection of ancient Tunisian artefacts and mosaics and other treasures from classical Rome and Greece, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Tunisian capital.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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