Tunisian Authorities Announce Criminal Investigation into Deadly Terror Attack on Djerba Synagogue
by Ben Cohen
The Tunisian authorities have opened an investigation into Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attack against the historic El Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba.
All roads leading to the synagogue were closed on Wednesday morning with security forces deployed around its perimeter, French broadcaster France 24 reported.
“A preliminary criminal investigation has been opened,” Fethi Bakkouche, a spokesperson for the court in Djerba, confirmed in a statement.
Around 8,000 pilgrims visit Djerba annually to celebrate the Jewish festival of Lag B’Omer.
Tuesday night’s attack was carried out by a naval officer serving on the island who shot dead one of his colleagues at his base before collecting more ammunition and traveling nine miles to the synagogue, where he opened fire on guards at the entrance, according to the Tunisian interior ministry. Four people were killed during the assault, including two security guards and a pair of cousins — Benjamin Haddad, a 42-year-old French citizen, and Aviel Haddad, a 30-year-old holder of French and Israeli passports who lived in Israel. Four worshipers and six security officers were wounded and rushed to hospital.
René Trabelsi — a former Tunisian tourism minister and a leader of the country’s tiny Jewish community of 1,500 — said that were it not for the swift response of the authorities, the bloodshed would have likely been much worse.
“Without the rapid intervention of the security forces, carnage would have taken place because hundreds of visitors were on the scene,” Trabelsi, who was present at the synagogue, told French broadcaster Mosaïque FM.
According to the Jeune Afrique news outlet, the assailant, who has not been named, had been suspended from duty because of his Islamist sympathies. Posts on social media in the immediate aftermath of the attack suggested that it was sparked by a quarrel between rival police officers, a claim later denied by a statement from the interior ministry.
Among the foreign guests at the synagogue’s celebrations earlier on Tuesday were Joey Hood, the US Ambassador in Tunis, and Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s envoy for combating antisemitism. Most of the foreign visitors had left the premises by the time of the attack, according to eyewitnesses.
Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, was among the foreign leaders who condemned the attack. Mourning the death of a French citizen, Macron vowed to “always, relentlessly, fight antisemitic hatred.”
“The attack on the Ghriba synagogue upsets us. We think with pain of the victims, of the Tunisian people, our friends. We stand alongside the family of our murdered compatriot,” Macron added.
The attack has bolstered fears that the Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to Djerba may not survive. The synagogue was the target of a terrorist attack on the same occasion in 2002, when an Islamist terrorist drove a truck packed with explosives into the front of the synagogue, killing 14 German tourists along with three Tunisians and two French nationals.
Tunisia’s last significant terrorist attack was a blast targeting police outside the US embassy in Tunis in 2020 that killed one officer. Two suicide blasts targeted police outside the French embassy in 2019, also killing one officer.
Islamist terrorists also killed scores of tourists in two separate attacks at a beach resort and a Tunis museum in 2015.