UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Homeland Security

Tunisian Parliament Calls Day of Solidarity After Deadly Attack

by VOA News March 19, 2015

Tunisia's parliament called for a day of solidarity after gunmen opened fire at one of the capital's top tourism sites, killing 19 people and wounding more than 40 others.

'The target of the attack was the parliament and the national museum,' said Parliament President Mohamed Enaceur during a special session late Wednesday. 'These are symbols and this attack was a message to tell us that terrorism today has changed in that it has a presence in the city and is eyeing our national symbols.'

Prime Minister Habib Essid said two assailants wearing military-style uniforms 'hunted and chased down' tourists at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis before taking a small group captive. Police killed two attackers in an operation to free the hostages. Authorities said they were searching for up to three potential accomplices.

Japanese officials said Thursday the dead included three people from Japan. Essid said two Tunisians were among the victims, along with people from Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.

Tunisian television showed images of older tourists and children fleeing the scene under the cover of armed security forces. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said at least 100 people were inside the museum at the time of the attack.

In a television address to the nation Wednesday evening, President Beji Caid Essebsi said, 'I want the people of Tunisia to understand firstly and lastly that we are in a war with terror, and these savage minority groups will not frighten us.''

The United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the shootings.

'The members of the Security Council stressed that no terrorist attack can reverse the path of Tunisia towards democracy and all efforts directed towards economic recovery and development,' read a statement from the council.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was among officials around the world who also condemned the attack and offered support for Tunisia.

'We commend Tunisian authorities' rapid response to today's wanton violence and their efforts to resolve the hostage situation and restore calm,' Kerry said in an emailed statement.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the attack an act of terrorism.

'This attack cruelly illustrates the threat that we are all confronted with in Europe, in the Mediterranean, around the world. France, Tunisia and Europe will act together to fight terrorism,' Valls said.

Cairo-based Professor of Political Sociology Said Sadek told VOA that militants in Tunisia have in the past targeted security forces, making Wednesday's attack especially disturbing.

"Terrorists pick targets because they known it will have certain impacts. It's not just killing unknown tourists in a museum. They want to kill Tunisia. [They] want to kill the economy of Tunisia. So this is really the target,' said Sadek.

While it's not yet clear who is responsible for the attack, Sadek said its likely one of many militant groups that have flourished since 2011, when Arab Spring uprooted the country's security apparatus as weapons poured out of neighboring Libya.

The increasing availability and sophistication of weapons in the region, he added, have made it possible for a large attack to be conducted by a small number of militants.

Other analysts said the attack was not only an attack on the Tunisian economy, but a response to the government's recent crack-down on Islamic State supporters.

Yan St. Pierre, the CEO of the Berlin-based security firm MOSECON, said the museum's location next to the parliament building could have been targeted specifically to shut down the work of the government-which was scheduled to pass even tougher anti-terrorism laws on Wednesday.

"The Bardo being so close to the parliament, it provided a soft target. It allowed them to disrupt voting on that bill. They succeeded. They had to evacuate parliament because of the attack on the Bardo,' St. Pierre said.

St. Pierre believes the attack could have the long-term impact of making the Tunisian government, which he said remains in transition, even more fragile.

But he added that as chaos in neighboring Libya deepens the regional security crisis, he expects terrorist attacks against soft targets like the museum to continue.

HuffPost Tunisia journalist Emilie Gline said that with tourism season in Tunis about to start, the timing could not be worse for the country's economy.

"It's always surprising when something like that happens when you are sitting in Tunisia. Even if we knew there was a risk about an attack, we were surprised,' Gline said.

Heather Murdock contributed to this report from Cairo.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list