Tunis: Attackers opened fire on Wednesday at a major museum in Tunisia's capital next to the parliament, gunning down 17 tourists as dozens more sprinted to safety. At least 21 people in all were killed, including two gunmen, but some attackers may have escaped, authorities said.
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.
A victim is evacuated by rescue workers outside the Bardo musum in Tunis on Wednesday. Pic/AP
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.
Many elderly people, apparently tourists, ran in panic to safety, including at least one couple carrying two children.
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid 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.
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.
Tunisian security forces secure the area after gunmen attacked Tunis' famed Bardo Museum on Wednesday.Pic/AFP
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.
Ship owner Costa Crociere confirmed that some of its 3,161 passengers were visiting the capital today 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.
Today's 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 center. A new wing with contemporary architecture was built as part of a 2009 renovation, doubling the surface area.
Tunisia is the first country where the 'Arab Spring' revolution began in 2010.