Tunisia’s president has vowed to act “without mercy” in response to today’s terrorist attack that targeted tourists at the capital’s renowned Bardo Museum.
Prime Minister Habib Essid said the 22 dead included 20 tourists from Italy, Germany, Spain and Poland. An interior ministry spokesman said there were also victims from France and South Africa. Two gunmen were killed and one to three gunmen were reported to still be at large. They reportedly began spraying the tourists with gunfire as they disembarked from tour buses. Some were taken hostage inside the museum complex and later freed by security forces with one police officer killed.
Tunisia, which was the birth of the Arab Spring democracy movements, is viewing it as a direct assault upon their lucrative tourism industry. “All Tunisians should be united after this attack which was aimed at destroying the Tunisian economy,” Essid said in an address to the nation.
“I want the Tunisian people to understand that we are in a war against terrorism and that these savage minorities do not frighten us,” Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said in televised remarks. “We will fight them without mercy to our last breath.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, though suspects include Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and ISIS. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London estimates between 1,500 and 3,000 Tunisians have gone to fight with ISIS.
The U.S. Embassy in Tunis, which is about 10 miles from the site of the attack, sent out an emergency message for U.S. citizens today warning them to avoid the area around the parliament and the museum.
“U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution and avoid areas where large gatherings may occur. Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens should monitor local events, report suspicious activity to the local police, and take appropriate steps to bolster their own security,” the message stated. “The U.S. Embassy reiterates our standing guidance that U.S. citizens in Tunisia should exercise caution when frequenting public venues that are visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites and restaurants. U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility of kidnapping.”
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning the attack. “We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones. We commend Tunisian authorities’ rapid response to today’s wanton violence and their efforts to resolve the hostage situation and restore calm,” Kerry said. “The United States stands with the Tunisian people at this difficult time and continues to support the Tunisian government’s efforts to advance a secure, prosperous, and democratic Tunisia.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement that U.S. officials have been in touch with Tunisian officials and are ready to offer help.
“While we do not yet know the identities of the attackers or their motives, what we do know is that their cowardly acts will not intimidate the Tunisian people, whose storied heritage is showcased at the site of this attack, the National Bardo Museum,” Earnest said. “The United States is proud of our robust cooperation with Tunisia on counterterrorism and broader security issues, and we will continue to stand with our Tunisian partners against terrorist violence.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said the attack “reminds us all that there are still people who choose hate and intolerance, over understanding and compassion.”