Gunmen in military uniforms killed 19 people on Wednesday in a midday attack on a museum in downtown Tunis, dealing a new blow to the tourist industry that it so vital to Tunisia. Initially it was reported that the attackers were holding 10 hostages and had killed nine others. However, when security took control of the museum roughly four hours later, the death toll more than doubled, raising many questions of how and at what point in time the hostages had died. The Tunisia Prime Minister, Habib Essid, claimed that the security forces had killed two gunmen inside the museum but that there was a possibility that two or three accomplices could still be at large. The final death count boiled down to 17 foreign visitors – including Polish, Italian, Spanish, and German tourists – as well as two Tunisians, one of which a member of the security forces. At a minimum, 22 others were wounded. Prime Minister Essid advised national unity, claiming the attack as “the first operation of its kind ever to occur in Tunisia” because it targeted the crucial tourist economy. Although the gunman’s identities and motivations are not evidently clear, they are believed to the Tunisians themselves. Gunshots were heard in the area around 12:30PM as cruise ships loaded with tourists were docking in the harbor, the gunmen were believed to move swiftly through the crowds due to their uniforms.
Tunisia is the Arab world’s most successful democracy and recently completed it first free presidential elections and a peaceful rotation of political power. Within the recent changes, security forces have struggled to squash the occasional attacks by Islamist extremists. Tunisia has emerged as one of the largest sources of foreign fighters joining the ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The newfound democracy has provided a new freedom to the people of this old authoritarian system. Although evidence doesn’t link the museum attack to the Islamic State, it’s supporters circulated celebratory messages on social media, citing a video released online in December. Within this video, Boubakr Hakim, a Tunisian militant warned of attacks to come stating, “You will not live in safety as long as Tunisia is not ruled by Islam”. The bloodshed on Wednesday raised concerns that the new government might be tempted to trun back toward authoritarianism in an effort to stamp out terrorist threats.
I feel sorry for the people of Tunis, who have clearly been through a lot. It would be a nice change for them to actually be able to live in peace. It’s a shame that with tourism being to critical to this country, that now people will be too fearful to step foot inside their museums, or possibly even on their ground. Democracy will be a process for this country, but I wish them the best.