Tunisia synagogue attack toll up to six, local media says
Members of the security forces stand near the entrance of Ghriba synagogue, following an attack, in Djerba, Tunisia May 10, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer
TUNIS (Reuters) -A Tunisian security officer who was wounded in Tuesday's shooting attack outside a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba has died, hospital sources said, bringing the death toll to six including the shooter.
The attacker, a National Guard member, killed a colleague at a naval installation, then travelled to the synagogue where an annual Jewish pilgrimage was taking place and opened fire on police and visitors before he was shot dead.
Two Jewish cousins, one French and the other Israeli-Tunisian, were killed, along with one police officer who died at the scene and another in hospital on Wednesday.
Four more police were injured, one critically, hospital sources said, along with four other visitors.
Authorities have not yet outlined a motive or said if anybody else was involved in the attack, which is the deadliest in years and took place on an island that is a major destination for Tunisia's vital tourism industry.
The tourism minister Moez Belhassine was visiting the site and Djerba hotels to reassure on security.
Israel's Foreign Ministry described the attack as a "lethal shooting incident", with a spokesperson saying it was still under investigation.
The United States and France said Tunisian security forces had responded quickly.
Worshippers attending the pilgrimage described a scene of panic after gunshots rang out, as people tried to hide in different rooms of the synagogue.
"People were happy and dancing until we heard a lot of gunfire. Everyone ran away... some hid in my office and others in the other rooms. There was lots of fear," said Peres Trabelsi, head of Djerba's Jewish community.
The attacker arrived on a quad bike and was wearing body armour, said Rene Trabelsi, Tunisia's former tourism minister who organised the pilgrimage, adding that the two cousins had tried to hide behind a bus outside the synagogue.
"We heard the shots and knew it was related to an attack," he said, adding that he had been inside the synagogue with his family when the shooting began.
The pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue regularly draws hundreds of Jews from Europe and Israel to Djerba, located just off the coast about 500 km (300 miles) from the capital Tunis.
The pilgrimage has had tight security since al Qaeda militants attacked the synagogue in 2002 with a truck bomb, killing 21 Western tourists. Mainly Muslim Tunisia is home to one of North Africa's largest Jewish communities with about 1,800 members.
Any impact on Tunisia's tourism sector, a major source of foreign currency, will be closely watched in a year when the government is seeking financial help to avert a crisis in public finances.
The tourism business was badly hit by major attacks in 2015 that killed scores of Western tourists and had barely recovered before the COVID pandemic in 2019 and 2020. Economic woes have driven a big exodus of Tunisians to Europe.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, additional reporting by Daniel Williams in Jerusalem, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, William Maclean and Bernadette Baum)