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Tunisian Officials Still Investigating Deadly Museum Attack

DON GONYEA, HOST:

In Tunisia today, gunmen stormed the prominent Bardo National Museum in the capital Tunis and opened fire. At least 19 people were killed, including 17 foreign tourists. Two of the dead are Tunisians. About 40 more people were injured. The attack has sent shockwaves through this small North African nation. At least two militants are still at large. NPR's Leila Fadel is in Tunis and joins us now. Leila, what else can you tell us about what happened?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, witnesses that we spoke to said that gunmen in civilian clothes walked onto the grounds of the parliament where the museum is also located and opened fire and started killing people at a time when buses of tourists were arriving and leaving the museum. A tour guide that I met outside the museum witnessed the attack, and he said he saw a young man in pretty modern clothes, jeans, fidgeting with a weapon. And at first he thought it was a game of some kind, but then the guy started firing. So the tour guide ran away, but he says two of the tourists on his own bus were killed by the gunman. There are Germans, Italians and Spanish tourists among the dead and other foreigners as well.

GONYEA: And how are people reacting there?

FADEL: Really with shock and horror. Tonight there is a protest on the main avenue downtown against terrorism. People are saying this isn't Tunisia and they don't want this to continue. This is the first large-scale attack on foreigners in Tunisia since 2002, and it really seems aimed at Tunisia's tourist industry. The tour guide I interviewed said that today is the day where cruise ships - Mediterranean cruise ships - arrive in Tunis and they come pick them up in buses and take them to the museum and other sites. So this is really aimed at killing the tourism industry, he says.

GONYEA: And how is the government responding?

FADEL: The president visited the injured at a local hospital. And the prime minister addressed the nation. He urged for unity in the face of an attack that he says targets Tunisia's economy. People are really scared, and they want the government to do more to stop attacks like these. But also human rights groups are a little bit worried that a huge security crackdown could follow something like this and create the opposite effect - a police state, police abuse and possible more radicalization.

GONYEA: Finally, Leila, Tunisia has been a relatively bright spot since the 2011 uprisings - the Arab Spring. Tunisians have held elections and peaceful transfers of power have taken place. How were people explaining why this happened?

FADEL: Well, it's not clear yet why or who did this. But Tunisia's not a country in a bubble. It has a porous border with Libya, which is in complete chaos. And in parts of Libya, the self-declared Islamic State has set up shop, drawing in foreign fighters. And Tunisia has a real problem with people going over to fight with the extremist group ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Estimates here range from 1,200 to 3,000 people that have gone to fight with ISIS. And Tunisians are asking, well, what happens when they come home?

GONYEA: Alright. Thank you, Leila.

FADEL: Thank you.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Tunis, where gunmen opened fire in a museum today killing at least 19 people. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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