Tunisia — A Tunisian police officer shot dead four people at Africa’s oldest synagogue in an attack Tuesday that sparked panic during an annual Jewish pilgrimage on the island of Djerba. The officer shot two visitors, including a French national, and two colleagues before shooting him dead himself, the Interior Ministry said. A security officer among the nine people injured in the attack later died of his injuries, Tunisia’s TAP news agency said on Wednesday, citing hospital sources.
Four other visitors and four police officers were injured in the attack, the first against foreign visitors to Tunisia since 2015 and the first at the Ghriba synagogue pilgrimage since a suicide truck bomb killed 21 people in 2002.
The Tunisian Foreign Ministry identified the two slain visitors as a 30-year-old Tunisian and a 42-year-old French citizen. He did not release their names.
The assailant had first shot dead a colleague and taken his ammunition before opening fire in the synagogue, sending hundreds of visitors there into panic.
“Investigations continue to clarify the motives for this cowardly attack,” the Interior Ministry said, refraining from referring to the shooting as a terrorist attack.
The French government “condemns this heinous act in the strongest terms,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said.
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller also condemned the shooting, saying on Twitter that the US “deplores the attack in Tunisia to coincide with the annual Jewish pilgrimage that draws worshipers to the El Ghriba synagogue from all over the world.” the world”.
“We express our condolences to the Tunisian people and commend the swift action of the Tunisian security forces,” added Miller.
According to organizers, more than 5,000 Jewish worshipers, mostly foreigners, took part in this year’s event. The annual pilgrimage only resumed in 2022 after a two-year suspension related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Between Passover and Shavuot, the pilgrimage to Ghriba is at the heart of Jewish tradition in Tunisia, where only about 1,500 members of the faith live, mostly on Djerba, compared to around 100,000 before the country gained independence from France in 1956.
Pilgrims travel from Europe, the United States and Israel to participate, though their numbers have dwindled since the deadly 2002 bombing.
Tuesday’s shooting came as the tourism industry in Tunisia finally recovered from pandemic-era lows, as well as the aftermath of a couple of attacks in Tunis and Sousse in 2015 which killed dozens of foreign tourists.
Tunisia suffered a sharp rise in Islamist militancy after the Arab Spring toppled despot Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but authorities say they have made significant progress in the fight against terrorism in recent years.
Ghriba’s attack also comes as Tunisia is in the throes of a severe financial crisis that has worsened since President Kais Saied took power in July 2021 and imposed a constitution that gave his office sweeping powers and neutralized parliament.