Tunisia Shooting Leaves 19 Dead, 17 Of Which Were Tourists, Says Prime Minister Habib Essid

Tunisian security forces secure the area after gunmen attacked Tunis' famed Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015. At least seven foreigners and a Tunisian were killed in an attack by two men armed with assault rifles on the museum, the interior ministry said. AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID (Photo credit should read FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

At least 19 people were killed in an attack at a Tunisian museum on Wednesday, when a hostage situation quickly unfolded, causing an evacuation of the nearby Parliament building. Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid confirmed at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that 17 of the victims were foreign tourists. Earlier reports placed the number of casualties at eight people. (Update: Tunisian state television has now placed the death toll at 22 people, including the two gunmen.)

Two gunmen allegedly responsible for the attack were killed Wednesday after authorities carried out a raid on the museum. At least one Tunisian security officer was also killed, as well as a female museum worker. "It is a critical moment in our history, and a defining moment for our future," Essid said.

The prime minister told reporters that at least 22 tourists were wounded in the shooting, which appears to be a terrorist attack. The prime minister also confirmed that the victims were from various European nations, including Poland, Italy, Germany and Spain. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Tunisian interior ministry spokesperson Mohamed Ali Aroui confirmed on national radio that a shooting broke out at Bardo National Museum, a popular art museum in the nation's capital of Tunis. Aroui said a hostage situation unfolded at the museum. 

According to the Tunisian government, police eventually stormed the museum on Wednesday afternoon, killing the two gunmen in a raid. The hostage situation and security operation is now over, officials said. Authorities added that one Tunisian police officer was killed during the raid, BBC News reports. The officer's identity has not been released.

During Wednesday's press conference, Essid said that there were at least five gunmen, or possibly even more. So far, he could only confirm that two were killed. Tunisian authorities are also reportedly looking for any more possible gunmen. At least three gunmen may be on the loose Wednesday in Tunisia.

The Tunisia parliament building was evacuated shortly after the shooting broke out. The New York Times reports that police surrounded the area during the standoff with the gunmen. 

Although the attackers' identities are still unconfirmed, Aroui claimed on national Tunisian television that the gunmen were Islamic militants. He also alleged that the militants were dressed in military apparel. 

Tunisia Parliament member Sayida Ounissi was live-tweeting the shooting and evacuation, saying there was a "big panic at Bardo." Ounissi said on Twitter that she and her colleagues were evacuated as authorities surrounded the area, and she heard reports from police of hostages "probably" being held in the museum. 

The Tunisian Parliament was reportedly discussing anti-terrorism legislation on Wednesday, shortly before the attack occurred. However, it's unclear if that was a motivator for the terrorist attack.

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Images and live footage of the hostage situation and ensuing raid were reportedly broadcast Wednesday on Tunisia state television. Tunisia residents took to social media, sharing these images across Twitter and other online platforms. 

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Photos purported to be taken by hostages inside the Bardo National Museum were also widely spread on Twitter as the situation unfolded. These photos show dozens of museum visitors sitting against walls as they wait for authorities.

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The U.S. State Department released a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry, who condemned the deadly attack and expressed America's solidarity with the people and government of Tunisia:

We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones. We commend Tunisian authorities’ rapid response to today’s wanton violence and their efforts to resolve the hostage situation and restore calm. The United States stands with the Tunisian people at this difficult time and continues to support the Tunisian government’s efforts to advance a secure, prosperous, and democratic Tunisia.
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Later on Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz announced that some of the Polish victims killed during the attack were on a tour bus in front of the museum, The New York Times reports. Kopacz would not say how many Polish nationals were killed, but she did say 20 Polish tourists were safe.

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