Tourists and visitors from the Bardo Museum are evacuated. Photo: Hassene DridiA tourist bus had just pulled up outside Tunisia’s national museum and its passengers were piling out of the vehicle ready for a day of sightseeing when militants, armed with assault rifles and grenades, opened fire on the tourists.
It was just after midday on Wednesday, local time, and the area surrounding the Bardo National Museum was bustling with people making their way into the attraction in downtown Tunis, the country’s capital. The large museum is to many Tunisians what the Louvre is to Paris: a major tourist destination, according to the BBC.
The building is located adjacent to the national Parliament, and some reports suggest that legislators were discussing an anti-terrorism law as at least two gunmen, who were dressed in military uniforms, took aim at those stepping off the bus.
“I couldn’t see anything except blood and the dead,” the driver of one tourist bus told Reuters. “They just started opening fire on the tourists as they were getting out of the buses.”
A museum employee told Reuters that two gunmen “opened fire on the tourists as they were getting off the buses, before fleeing into the museum”.
Initial reports suggest eight people were killed as they got off the bus, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. Several more of those tourists were taken hostage and then killed, The New York Times reported, citing the Interior Ministry spokesman.
By late on Wednesday, local time, at least 19 people were dead, including 17 foreign tourists. Forty-two people were wounded,Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said.
Italian, Polish, South African, French and Japanese tourists were among the injured and killed, Mosaique FM radio in Tunisia reported.
Yasmine Ryan, who was at the museum at the time of the attack, told the BBC that she saw “helicopters flying overhead” and “tanks rolling in” as the security situation unfolded.
Inside the museum, a French tourist identified asGeraldine said she was on a guided tour when she heard shots fired outside.
“We thought it was a party, but in fact it wasn’t – there were men on the floor,”she told French news network iTele as she was still holed up in the building.
“Then there was a movement of panic as there are lots of people in the building. There are around 40 of us holed up in a room. We are rather panic-stricken, there was lots of noise.
“Then there were no gunshots outside, then we heard things outside. We were all inside sitting on the floor in the room. We could hear ‘Allahu Akbar’ and lots of firing.
“We can’t see outside. There is a group of attackers. There have been lots of volleys of gunfire. I would say there are a lot of them or else I am mistaken because I don’t know about this kind of thing.”
A large cruise ship, the Costa Fascinosa, was docked in Tunis on Wednesday morning. The ship, carrying 3161 passengers, was on a seven-day trip of the western Mediterranean and some of the Italian passengers caught in the museum ambush were believed to have been passengers on the ship.
Ship owner Costa Crociere confirmed that some of its passengers were visiting Tunis on Wednesday and that a Bardo National Museum tour was on the itinerary. The company could not confirm how many passengers were in the museum at the time.
The cruise ship recalled all of its passengers to the ship and was in touch with local authorities and the Italian Foreign Ministry.
Piero Fassino, the mayor of Turin, told Italian television that six City Hall workers were there, but that only two had been heard from.
“We are waiting for news with a certain anguish,” he said, according to The New York Times.
Security forces entered the museum, a former palace, about two hours after the initial attack and killed two militants and freed the captives, a government spokesman said. A police officer died in the operation.
Prime Minister Habib Essid said:”It is a critical moment in our history, and a defining moment for our future.
“We have not established the identity of the two terrorists … Reports are not final, these two terrorists could have been assisted by two or three other operatives.”
Mr Essid saidan Australian was also killed.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for confirmation.
– with Reuters
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.