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Update: Tunisian attack left 19 dead, other gunmen reportedly sought

Al Jazeera

Update: CNN reports that the Tunisian law enforcement is still on the hunt for other gunmen

Update:Gunmen in military uniforms stormed Tunisia's national museum, killing 17 foreign tourists and two Tunisians on Wednesday in one of the worst militant attacks in a country that has largely escaped the region's "Arab Spring" turmoil.

Visitors from Italy, Germany, Poland and Spain were among the dead in the noon assault on the Bardo museum near parliament in central Tunis, Prime Minister Habib Essid said.

Security forces stormed the former palace around two hours later, killed two militants and freed other tourists held hostage inside, a government spokesman said. One policeman was killed in the police operation.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said "terrorist organizations" were behind the attack. "The EU is determined to mobilize all the tools it has to fully support Tunisia in the fight against terrorism," she added.

Prime Minister Essid declared in a national address:

"All Tunisians should be united after this attack which was aimed at destroying the Tunisian economy."

Television footage showed dozens of people, including elderly foreigners and one man carrying a child, running for shelter in the compound, covered by security forces aiming rifles into the air.

The attack on such a high-profile target is a blow for the small North African country that relies heavily on European tourism and has largely avoided major militant violence since its 2011 uprising to oust autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia's uprising inspired "Arab Spring" revolts in neighboring Libya and in Egypt, Syria and Yemen. But its adoption of a new constitution and staging of largely peaceful elections had won widespread praise and stood in stark contrast to the chaos that has plagued those countries.

Authorities did not immediately identify the gunmen.

But several Islamist militant groups have emerged in Tunisia since the uprising and authorities estimate about 3,000 Tunisians have also joined fighters in Iraq and Syria -- raising fears they could return and mount attacks at home.

"Two terrorists disguised in military clothes got into the parliament building, then the museum where they attacked tourists. Nineteen people were killed including 17 foreign tourists. Twenty-two tourists are wounded," the prime minister said.

ARAB SPRING REVOLTS

"Two militants opened fire on the tourists as they were getting off the buses before fleeing into the museum," one Bardo employee told Reuters at the scene.

An official at the Italian foreign ministry in Rome said two Italians had been wounded in the attack.

About another 100 Italians were in the area and had been taken to safety by Tunisian police, authorities added.

The museum is known for its collection of ancient Tunisian artifacts and mosaics and other treasures from classical Rome and Greece. There were no immediate reports the attackers had copied Islamic State militants in Iraq by targeting exhibits seen by hardliners as idolatrous.

Islamic State affiliates are gaining a foothold in neighboring Libya where two rival governments are battling for control. A senior Tunisian militant was killed while fighting for Islamic State in the Libyan city of Sirte over the past week, authorities said.

Wednesday's assault was the worst attack involving foreigners in Tunisia since an al Qaeda suicide bombing on a synagogue killed 21 people on the tourist island of Djerba in 2002.


Update:The BBC reports that at least 19 people (17 of which were tourists) were killed in today's shooting in Tunisia.

The country's prime minister said the attack involved "up to five attackers and that 22 tourists, including two Tunisians, were injured."


Previously:The Associated Press reports that hostage standoff has ended with two gunmen and a security officer dead.

All the hostages have been freed. The Associated Pess puts the civilian death toll at at least eight.

Previously: Gunmen attacked Tunisia's national museum near its parliament on Wednesday, killing at least seven tourists and taking others hostage inside the building, the government said.

Foreign tourists ran for shelter, covered by security forces aiming rifles into the air, live television footage showed.

Security forces were surrounding at least two militants in the Bardo museum, a venue in central Tunis on the parliament grounds that is a popular site for visiting foreigners, the interior ministry spokesman said.

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

Tunisian authorities did not release any details on the nationalities of the hostages. If any foreigners were killed, Wednesday's assault would the worst assault involving them since an al Qaeda suicide bombing on a synagogue killed 21 people on the tourist island of Djerba in 2002.

The spokesman for the interior ministry said seven tourists and one Tunisian had been killed.

An official at the Italian foreign ministry in Rome said two Italians had been wounded in the attack, but it was not clear whether they were among the hostages.

About another 100 Italians were in the area and had been taken to safety by Tunisian police, authorities added.

Tunisia uprising inspired "Arab Spring" revolts in neighboring Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. But its adoption of a new constitution and staging of largely peaceful elections has won widespread praise and stood in stark contrast to the chaos that has plagued those countries.

Several militant groups have emerged in Tunisia since the uprising, including Ansar al Sharia which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Authorities estimate 3,000 Tunisians have also joined militant groups in Iraq and Syria and some have returned home, increasing government fears of an attack on Tunisian soil.

Islamic State affiliates in Libya are gaining a foothold as two rival governments there battle for control. A senior Tunisian militant was killed while fighting for Islamic State in the Libyan city of Sirte over the past week, authorities said.

 

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