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Tunisia museum attack: 22 dead, 42 injured; manhunt on for gunmen

Last updated on: March 19, 2015 03:25 IST

Attackers opened fire at a major museum in Tunisia's capital on Wednesday, gunning down 17 tourists as dozens more sprinted to safety. At least 22 people in all were killed, including two gunmen, but some attackers may have escaped, authorities said.

Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid had earlier said 21 people were killed: 17 tourists, two gunmen, a Tunisian security officer and a Tunisian cleaning woman. He said the dead tourists came from Italy, Poland, Germany and Spain. Tunisian authorities later raised the death toll to 22 but did not provide the nationality of the latest victim.

Police officers stand outside the parliament in Tunis. Gunmen in military uniforms stormed Tunisia's national museum, killing 17 foreign tourists and two Tunisians on Wednesday in one of the worst militant attacks in a country that has largely escaped the region's "Arab Spring" turmoil. Photograph: Zoubeir Souissi/ Reuters

The attack on the famed National Bardo Museum in Tunis was the first on a tourist site in years in Tunisia, a shaky young democracy that has struggled to keep Islamic extremist violence at bay.

It was not clear who the attackers were but security forces immediately flooded the area. Tunisia's parliament building, next to the museum, was evacuated.

Private television Wataniya showed masked Tunisian security forces escorting dozens of tourists up nearby steps and away from the danger, as armed security forces pointed guns toward an adjacent building.

Police officers stand guard outside the parliament building in Tunis. Photograph: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

Many elderly people, apparently tourists, ran in panic to safety, including at least one couple carrying two children.

He said two or three of the attackers remained at large.

Several other people were reported wounded in the attack, including three Poles and at least two Italians. The Italian Foreign Ministry said 100 other Italians had been taken to a secure location.

Some of the Italians at the museum were believed to have been passengers aboard the Costa Fascinosa, a cruise liner making a seven-day trip of the western Mediterranean that had docked in Tunis.

Police officers are seen on the pavement outside parliament in Tunis. Photograph: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

Ship owner Costa Crociere confirmed that some of its 3,161 passengers were visiting the capital on Wednesday and that a Bardo tour was on the itinerary, but said it could not confirm how many passengers were in the museum at the time.

The cruise ship recalled all the passengers to the ship and was in touch with local authorities and the Italian Foreign Ministry.

The attack was a strong blow to Tunisia's efforts to revive its crucial tourism industry.

The National Bardo Museum, built in a 15th-century palace, is the largest museum in Tunisia and houses one of the world's largest collections of Roman mosaics among its 8,000 works.

The museum is near the North African nation's parliament, 4 kilometres from the city centre. A new wing with contemporary architecture was built as part of a 2009 renovation, doubling the surface area.

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