TUNIS, Tunisia, Mar 19 – Tunisia’s president promised to wage a “merciless war against terrorism” after gunmen killed 17 foreign tourists and two Tunisians in a daylight attack in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
As the international community denounced Wednesday’s assault on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, which also left more than 40 people wounded, President Beij Caid Essebsi vowed Tunisia would fight “to our last breath”.
“I want the Tunisian people to understand that we are in a war against terrorism and that these savage minorities do not frighten us,” said Essebsi, who visited some of the dozens being treated for wounds in a Tunis hospital.
“We will fight them without mercy to our last breath.”
The gunmen, dressed in military uniforms, opened fire on the tourists — including visitors from Italy, France, Australia, Colombia, Poland and Spain — as they got off a bus then chased them inside the museum, said Prime Minister Habib Essid.
A Japanese survivor described how she and her mother were shot in the hail of bullets.
“I was crouching down with my arms over my head, but I was shot in the ear, hand and neck,” 35-year-old Noriko Yuki said from her hospital bed in comments aired by Japanese broadcaster NHK.
“My mother beside me was shot in the neck. Mother couldn’t move by herself when the police came over,” she added.
Among the dead were five Japanese, four Italians, two Colombians and one each from Australia, France, Poland and Spain, Essid announced on television, in what he said was a definitive toll.
However, differing figures were given by other governments and there was conflicting information over the breakdown, with some of the dead identified as joint nationals.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the claim that five Japanese had died was an “error”, stating that the toll stood at three dead and three injured.
The nationality of a 16th victim was not given, while the identity of the final fatality had not yet been established.
The Colombian tourists were a mother and child visiting Tunisia on a family holiday, their government said. The father survived the attack.
Police killed two gunmen and the authorities were still hunting for possible accomplices, said the prime minister.
A Tunisian bus driver and a policeman were also reported dead in the attack on the Bardo, famed for its collection of ancient artefacts.