Security forces deployed around the perimeter of the synagogue, which led to the closure of all roads leading to it, and the Ministry of the Interior stated that two “visitors” of the temple were shot dead by the attacker before he was shot, noting that “4 other people were wounded with varying degrees of severity.”
Tunisian authorities are investigating the circumstances of an attack by a security officer who killed three of his colleagues and two visitors outside a synagogue on the eastern island of Djerba during the Jewish pilgrimage season before he was shot dead. This synagogue is the oldest in Africa and was targeted in 2002 by a suicide car bomb attack, killing 21 people.
And the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported in a statement on Wednesday that a third security officer had been killed and said that an investigation was underway in order to “determine the responsibilities in this cowardly attack.”
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that Tuesday’s attack was carried out in two phases.
On Wednesday, security forces deployed around the perimeter of the synagogue, which led to the closure of all roads leading to it, according to AFP correspondents present at the site.
Two people who were participating in a Jewish religious ceremony in the Ghriba synagogue were also killed.
The Ministry of the Interior stated that “a guard officer affiliated with the Naval Center of the National Guard (…) killed his colleague, using his individual weapon and seizing ammunition, on Tuesday evening.”
She added that after that, “he tried to reach the vicinity of the Ghriba Temple, and fired indiscriminately at the security units stationed in the place, which confronted him, prevented him from reaching the temple, and shot him dead.”
The ministry stated that two “visitors” to the temple were shot dead by the attacker before he was shot, noting that “4 other people were wounded, of varying degrees, and were taken to hospital for treatment.”
Five security personnel were also injured.
For its part, the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in a statement on Tuesday that “the two deceased visitors are a Tunisian (30 years old) and a Frenchman (42 years old),” without revealing their identities.
Michael Cohen arrived at the Ghriba Temple, coinciding with an exchange of fire between the gunman and the security forces. “We did not imagine and imagine what happened,” he added.
The former Tunisian Minister of Tourism, Rene Trabelsi, who is among those responsible for the Tunisian Jewish community in Djerba and was present in the synagogue when the attack occurred, said that the two dead had a family relationship, namely Aviel Haddad, a 30-year-old Tunisian Jew, and Benjamin Haddad (42 years) who lives in France. He was in Djerba to participate in the pilgrimage.
He told the private radio “Music FM” that the perpetrator of the attack was wearing a security uniform and a bullet-proof suit, but thanks to the intervention of the security forces, he was alerted and confronted very quickly. “Had it not been for the rapid intervention, the disaster would have occurred because hundreds of visitors were in the place,” he added.
In the aftermath of the attack, the French Embassy in Tunis announced that it had set up a “crisis cell” and an emergency number. On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to combat “anti-Semitism”, saying, “Always, tirelessly, we will fight anti-Semitism.”
“The attack on the Ghriba Synagogue worries us. We think painfully of the victims, of the Tunisian people, of our friends. We stand with the family of our murdered compatriot,” Macron added in a message on Twitter.
For his part, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Twitter, “The United States condemns the attack, which took place in Tunisia and coincides with the annual Jewish pilgrimage season that attracts worshipers from all over the world to the Ghriba Synagogue.”
“We express our condolences to the Tunisian people and commend the swift action of the Tunisian security forces,” he added.
The attack was carried out at a time when hundreds of worshipers were participating in the annual Jewish pilgrimage season in Ghriba, which was about to end on Tuesday evening in this synagogue.
According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, one of the dead Jews holds Israeli citizenship.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen confirmed in a statement that his country “stands by the Jewish community in difficult times.”
According to the organizers, this year more than five thousand Jews, most of them from abroad, came to participate in the Ghriba pilgrimage, which resumed last year after a two-year break due to COVID-19.
The pilgrimage to the Ghriba Synagogue is organized annually on the thirty-third day of the Jewish Passover, and it is at the heart of the traditions of Tunisian Jews, whose number does not exceed 1,500, most of whom live in Djerba, compared to 100,000 before independence in 1956.
Pilgrims also come from European countries, the United States or even Israel, but their number has greatly diminished after the 2002 attack.
This attack comes at a time when tourism is recording a strong recovery in Tunisia, after a sharp slowdown during the pandemic.
After several years of decline due to the instability that followed the 2011 revolution, this key sector of the Tunisian economy was greatly affected after attacks in 2015 targeted the Bardo Museum in Tunis and a hotel in Sousse, which resulted in 60 deaths, including 59 foreign tourists.
After the 2011 popular revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia witnessed the rise of jihadist groups, but the authorities confirm that they have made great progress in combating terrorism over the past years.
The attack also comes at a time when Tunisia is witnessing an acute financial crisis that has worsened since President Kais Saied assumed full authority in the country in July 2021.