NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — A local expert Wednesday night said a mass shooting at a museum in Tunisia amounted to a statement by terrorists against both people and the culture they represent.
Tunisian officials said two gunmen with assault rifles stormed the famed National Bardo Museum near the country’s parliament in Tunis Wednesday, killing at least 19 people — mostly foreign tourists — before being killed themselves in a police raid.
“It would be a classic soft target, but it not only hurts individuals, but also the concept of culture they stand against,” Maik Haberfeld of John Jay College told CBS2’s Dick Brennan. “So it’s a win-win situation for them.”
As CBS2’s Weijia Jiang reported, hundreds of tourists ran for their lives in the attack, desperately looking for an escape route.
Prime Minister Habib Essid said in a live televised news conference that two or three of accomplices remained at large late Wednesday. Tunisian state television reported that about 50 people were wounded in the attack, CBS News reported.
According to Essid, the attackers, wearing military uniforms, walked past the fence around the perimeter of Bardo Museum and waited for tourist buses to arrive, and then opened fire. They then went into the building and reportedly executed eight tourists before they themselves were killed, CBS News reported.
Essid said the dead tourists came from Italy, Poland, Germany and Spain. No Americans were injured, according to the U.S. State Department.
“Our nation is in danger,” Essid said in a nationally televised address after the siege ended. “We will be merciless in the defense of our country.”
The gunmen also battled security forces at the parliament building next door. In a show of defiance, politicians there sang the National Anthem while on lockdown.
“There was some gunfight between them and between the police officers who were in the entrance,” said Tunisian Parliament Member Sabrine Goubantini. “They came back, they went back to the museum and at the entrance to the museum they shot a bus of tourists.”
Gunmen killed eight people as they got off the bus. At least 10 were taken hostage and later murdered.
The White House said U.S. officials were in touch with counterparts in Tunisia and condemned the attack.
“We just don’t want to draw any conclusions at this point,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “Tunisian authorities and the government have the lead.”
The attack Wednesday was the first targeting foreigners in Tunisia since 2011, though militants have launched attacks on security forces in recent years, CBS News reported.
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