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Toll rises to 5 killed in Tunisia synagogue attack

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — The number of people killed after an attack on a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba during an annual Jewish pilgrimage has now risen to five, Tunisia’s TAP news agency said Wednesday. They include two Jewish pilgrims and three Tunisian police guards.

One police guard died from his injuries following Tuesday’s attack, according to a medical official cited by TAP. Four other injured members of security forces were hospitalized in Djerba after they were wounded, including one in critical condition, according to TAP.

The Tunisian Foreign Ministry said the civilians killed were a 42-year-old French national and a 30-year-old Tunisian.

Israeli authorities and the family identified them as cousins: Aviel Haddad, who held dual Tunisian and Israeli citizenship, and Ben Haddad, who was French.

Four civilians were also injured, the Tunisian Interior Ministry said. The attacker was slain by security guards.

In a statement, the French foreign ministry expressed its “deep sadness” at the attack.

France paid tribute to the “rapid intervention of the Tunisian security forces and stands by Tunisia to continue the fight against antisemitism and all forms of fanaticism,” the statement said.

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli considered “the terrible attack in Djerba gravely” and noted that “unfortunately the incident was preceded by a tense period of shouts and harassment of the Jewish community at the site,” according to his office.

The European Jewish Congress expressed its “shock and outrage”.

“Terror attacks continue to target Jews around the world even when they are gathered in prayer, as we know from countless experiences over the years including at this very synagogue,” EJC President Ariel Muzicant said in a statement.

The motive for the attack was under investigation.

Djerba, a picturesque island off the southern coast of Tunisia, is home to the North African country’s main Jewish community. An annual pilgrimage at the 2,500-year-old Ghriba temple, one of Africa’s oldest synagogues. attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.

The assailant, a guard affiliated with the National Guard naval center in the port town of Aghir on Djerba, first killed a colleague with his service weapon before seizing ammunition and heading toward the Ghriba synagogue, the Tunisian Interior ministry said.

When he reached the site, he opened fire on security units stationed at the temple, who fired back, killing him before he reached the entrance, the ministry said. The synagogue was locked down and those inside and outside were kept secure while authorities investigated the motives for the attack, the ministry said.

Aviel Haddad’s sister, Rona, told Israel’s Kan public radio that the entire family had immigrated to Israel from Tunisia, and that her brother, a jeweler, traveled to Djerba frequently.

She said she and her family tried unsuccessfully for hours after the attack to contact him and later learned the news through family friends.

Rona Haddad said the family intended to bury Aviel Haddad in Israel.

In 2002, a truck bombing killed some 20 people at the entrance to the same temple during the annual Jewish pilgrimage. Al-Qaida claimed that attack, whose victims included German and French tourists as well as Tunisians.

In 2015, an attack in Tunisia at the Mediterranean resort of Sousse killed 38, mostly British tourists. The Islamic State group claimed the attack, along with attacks that year on the famed Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis and on a bus carrying presidential guards.

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Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to the story