Six people have been killed after an attack near a synagogue on Tunisia’s Djerba island that draws hundreds of Jews from Europe and Israel during an annual pilgrimage each year.
The attack on Tuesday was carried out by a guard from Tunisia’s National Guard naval centre in the town of Aghir on Djerba. He first used his weapon to shoot a colleague and seize his ammunition before moving towards Ghriba Synagogue, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The attacker fired indiscriminately at security units located near the synagogue, killing two visitors and a police officer.
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Security forces then shot the attacker dead, the interior ministry said.
Another officer died on Wednesday from his injuries.
Djerba – a holiday destination off the coast of southern Tunisia, 500km (300 miles) from the capital Tunis – is home to Africa’s oldest synagogue and the annual pilgrimage has had tight security since al-Qaeda attacked the religious site in 2002 with a truck bomb that killed 21 Western tourists.
The Tunisian foreign ministry said one of the visitors killed was French and one was Tunisian.
The sound of gunshots at the synagogue sparked panic among the hundreds of pilgrims, according to local media.
“The Ministry of the Interior confirms that the temple has been cordoned off and … all those inside and outside the temple have been secured, and research is continuing to find out the reasons for this treacherous and cowardly attack,” the ministry said in a statement.
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 a pandemic-related suspension.
Tunisia has no diplomatic ties with Israel, but Israelis are allowed entry into the country as part of organised tours to the island for the pilgrimage.
Mainly Muslim Tunisia is home to one of North Africa’s largest Jewish communities. Although they now number fewer than 1,800 people, Jews have lived in Tunisia since Roman times.
Gunmen killed scores of foreign tourists in two separate attacks at a beach resort and a Tunis museum in 2015.
Tunisia’s last significant security incident was an explosion targeting police outside the US embassy in 2020 that killed one officer. Two suicide blasts targeted police outside the French embassy in 2019, also killing one officer.
The US ambassador to Tunisia had visited the synagogue on Monday along with the US envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, according to a US embassy post on Twitter.