Deadly shooting at Tunisian synagogue during annual pilgrimage

Photo Courtesy of Bangkok Post

Two people participating in an annual pilgrimage and two security service members were fatally shot at the Ghriba Synagogue on Tunisia’s Djerba Island yesterday, according to the interior ministry. The gunman, a police officer, was also killed in the incident. Several others, including four visitors to the synagogue and five security officers, were injured in the attack.

The Tunisian foreign ministry identified the two worshippers who were killed as a 30 year old Tunisian and a 42 year old French national but did not disclose their names. The perpetrator first killed a fellow officer and took his ammunition before heading to the Ghriba synagogue, where hundreds of people were attending the annual event that was due to end yesterday night. The interior ministry has launched investigations to uncover the motives behind the attack, without classifying it as terrorism.

The French embassy in Tunisia announced the establishment of a crisis unit and an emergency hotline in response to the attack. Local media reported that the sound of gunfire at the synagogue had caused panic among the hundreds of pilgrims.

Organizers stated that over 5,000 Jewish devotees, mostly from overseas, participated in this year’s Ghriba pilgrimage, which resumed in 2022 after a two-year suspension due to the pandemic, reports Bangkok Post.

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Taking place between Passover and Shavuot, the Ghriba pilgrimage is central to Jewish tradition in Tunisia. Approximately 1,500 members of the faith live in the country, primarily in Djerba, compared to around 100,000 before independence in 1956. Pilgrims also travel from Europe, the United States, and Israel to participate, although their numbers have decreased since the 2002 attack on the synagogue.

The shooting occurred as Tunisia’s tourism sector was recovering from the pandemic and the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Tunis and Sousse that claimed the lives of numerous foreign visitors. Although Islamist militancy has surged in Tunisia since the 2011 Arab Spring that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, authorities assert that they have made significant progress in combating terrorism in recent years.

The latest attack at Ghriba comes as Tunisia faces a severe financial crisis, which has worsened since President Kais Saied seized power in July 2021 and pushed through a constitution that granted his office boundless authority while undermining parliament.

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With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!

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