Terrorism at a Tunisian Museum

At least 19 people are reported dead, including several foreigners, after gunmen took hostages in the capital.

The Bardo Museum's Carthage room (Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons/The Atlantic)

Updated on March 18, 2015, at 11:25 a.m.

At least 19 people are dead in Tunis Wednesday, including 17 foreign tourists and a policeman, according to Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid. Gunmen attacked the Bardo National Museum in the capital, and may have briefly assaulted the nearby parliament building as well. The attackers, who reportedly stormed the museum wearing military uniforms, held hostages for about three hours until security forces overcame them. Two gunmen were killed, but Essid said two or three may still be at large.

Where Did the Attack Take Place?

As is often the case in such attacks, there's little reliable information about what happened, but it appears that gunmen attacked the museum around 11 a.m. local time. The Bardo is a major attraction that boasts a range of Roman mosaics as well as Greek artifacts and Islamic art. The museum is also near major government buildings in the capital, most notably parliament, where lawmakers were reportedly discussing anti-terrorism legislation on Wednesday. According to The Guardian, the dead included Germans, Italians, Spaniards, and Poles.

Who Is Responsible?

While the attack has immediately been attributed to jihadists, there's no reliable claim of responsibility. Tunisia has seen an increase in domestic terrorism since the Arab Spring, when President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown. Last July, more than a dozen Tunisian soldiers were killed in fighting near the Algerian border with extremists linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the group's North African affiliate. But an estimated 3,000 Tunisians have also gone to Syria to fight in the civil war there.

The State Department says that the security situation has improved markedly in Tunisia over the last four years, but still warns tourists to be careful in the country. "Protests, demonstrations, and civil unrest can and have occurred with little warning throughout the country," the department's website says. "U.S. citizens should exercise caution when frequenting public venues that are visited by large numbers of foreigners."