A police officer has shot dead two people on an annual pilgrimage to a renowned Tunisian synagogue on the island of Djerba as well as two members of the security services before he was killed, the interior ministry said.
Four other visitors to the Ghriba Synagogue – Africa’s oldest – and five more security officers were wounded in the attack on Tuesday, according to the ministry.
In a statement, the Tunisian foreign ministry identified the two worshippers killed as a Tunisian, aged 30, and a French national, aged 42, but did not give their names.
The attack was carried out by a guard from Tunisia’s National Guard naval centre in the town of Aghir on Djerba who first shot dead a colleague and took his ammunition, according to the interior ministry.
He then went to Ghriba Synagogue where hundreds of people were on the annual pilgrimage, which was drawing to a close that night.
The sound of gunshots at the synagogue sparked panic among the hundreds of pilgrims, local media reported.
According to organisers, more than 5,000 Jewish faithful, mostly from overseas, participated in this year’s pilgrimage to Ghriba, which resumed in 2022 after two years of pandemic-related suspension.
“Investigations are continuing in order to shed light on the motives for this cowardly aggression,” the interior ministry said.
The French embassy in Tunisia announced it had set up a “crisis unit” and an emergency hotline following the attack.
Coming between Passover and Shavuot, the pilgrimage to Ghriba is at the heart of Jewish tradition in Tunisia, where only about 1,500 Jews live – mainly on Djerba – compared with close to 100,000 before independence in 1956.
Pilgrims also travel from Europe, the United States and Israel to take part, although their numbers have dropped since a suicide truck bombing that killed 21 there in 2002.
Tuesday’s shooting came as the tourism industry in Tunisia was finally enjoying a rebound from pandemic-era lows, as well as from the aftereffects of two attacks in Tunis and Sousse in 2015 that killed dozens of foreign visitors.