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20 dead in Tunisia terrorist attack


20 dead in Tunisia terrorist attack

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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – Gunmen opened fire Wednesday at a major museum in Tunisia’s capital, killing at least 20 people, mostly foreigners, in one of the worst terrorist attacks in this struggling North African democracy that depends heavily on tourism.

Men with assault rifles fired at tourists climbing from buses in front of the National Bardo Museum in central Tunis near the country’s parliament, sending dozens sprinting for safety. Two gunmen were killed, but Prime Minister Habib Essid said a manhunt was on for at two or three others.

The identity of the attackers wasn’t clear.

Security forces immediately flooded the area, and Tunisia’s parliament building, where deputies were debating the new anti-terrorism law, was evacuated.

Dozens of tourists scrambled from the museum holding hands or linking arms as security forces pointed their guns toward an adjacent building. Many elderly people, apparently tourists, ran in panic to safety, including at least one couple carrying two children.

Tunisia has been struggled to keep extremist violence at bay since the overthrow of its dictator in 2011, and the attack was the worst on a tourist site since an al-Qaida car bomb killed 21 people – mostly Germans – in 2002.

“Our nation is in danger,” Essid warned in an address on national television Wednesday evening after the siege ended.

“We will be merciless in the defence of our country,” he added, describing the attack as an unprecedented assault on Tunisia’s economy. He promised increased security in tourist zones and asked residents to be extra alert.

According to Essid, the dead include two gunmen, a Tunisian security officer and a Tunisian cleaning woman, while the rest were tourists from Italy, Poland, Germany and Spain. The Spanish Foreign Ministry has confirmed one dead.

Several other people were reported wounded in the attack, including three Poles and at least two Italians. The Italian Foreign Ministry said 100 other Italians had been taken to a secure location.

Some of the Italians at the museum were believed to have been passengers aboard the Costa Fascinosa, a cruise liner that had docked in Tunis while on a seven-day tour of the western Mediterranean.

Ship owner Costa Crociere confirmed that some of its 3 161 passengers were visiting the capital and that a Bardo tour was on the itinerary, but said it couldn’t confirm how many passengers were in the museum at the time.

The attack was a strong blow to Tunisia’s efforts to revive its crucial tourism industry.