A Tunisian naval guard shot dead four people at Africa’s oldest synagogue in an attack Tuesday that sparked panic during an annual Jewish pilgrimage on the island of Djerba.
He gunned down two visitors, including a French citizen, and two guards before he was shot dead himself, the Tunisian Interior Ministry said.
Another four visitors and five police officers were wounded in the attack.
The Tunisian foreign ministry identified the two visitors killed as a 30-year-old Tunisian and a French national, aged 42. It did not release their names. Security guards killed the attacker after he began firing randomly at security units at the synagogue.
Al Jazeera reports the attack on Tuesday was carried out by a guard from Tunisia’s National Guard naval center in the town of Aghir on Djerba. He first used his weapon to shoot a colleague and seize his ammunition before driving around 16 kilometers to the Ghriba Synagogue, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The Ghriba is the most famous of the about 20 synagogues that were being used until the 1950s in the three Jewish villages on the island of Djerba. The synagogue was built at the end of the 19th century at the spot where the sixth-century building had stood, according to wikipedia. Djerba is home to around 1,300 Jews El Ghriba is an important feature of Jewish life on the island. According to legend, the construction of the synagogue goes back to the High Priests’ escape following the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II in the year 586 BCE (or, alternately, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE). The High Priests carried with them a door and a stone of the destroyed Temple. Thus the synagogue links the Jewish diaspora to the “sole sanctuary of Judaism”. In modern times local Jews are distinguished by their dress which includes a black band around their pants, signifying the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The synagogue was attacked using a tanker truck full of gasoline in 2002 killing 21 people there. Gunmen killed 60 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 visited the synagogue earlier on Monday along with the US envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, according to a US Embassy Tunis post on Twitter. A former Tunisian minister for tourism was inside the synagogue during the shooting.
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