Last Updated Mar 18, 2015 11:07 AM EDT
Tunisian officials said two gunmen stormed a famed museum near the country’s parliament in Tunis Wednesday, killing 17 foreign tourists, a police officer and a Tunisian civilian before being killed themselves in a police raid.
Prime Minister Habib Essid said in a live televised news conference that 22 more tourists and two Tunisians escaped with injuries.
According to Essid, the attackers, wearing military uniforms, walked past the fence around the museum perimeter and waited for tourist buses to arrive and then opened fire. They then went into the building and reportedly executed eight tourists before being killed themselves.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Al-Orwa told reporters outside the museum that four buses full of tourists arrived at the museum around the time the attackers struck. He said the vast majority of the tourists had escaped the building.
Al-Orwa referred to the incident as a “terrorist attack on the Bardo Museum.”
The nationalities of those killed and injured was not immediately confirmed.
Italian cruise company Costa Cruises said in a written statement that its ship, the Costa Fascinosa, was “moored in the port of Tunis as planned” Wednesday during a week in the western Mediterranean.
“Some guests of Costa Fascinosa participated in a tour of the city,” said the statement, adding that the company was in contact with Tunisian authorities and was monitoring the situation closely. There were earlier reports that as many as 200 people from a European tour group had arrived at the museum aboard the buses.
CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata says that while Tunisia was once a popular tourist destination, it has continued to grapple with Islamic extremism in the wake of the “Arab Spring” in 2011, which saw longtime strongman President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ousted amid protests.
Many of the militants who have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in those two nations and neighboring Libya, and other groups, have come from Tunisia.
Nonetheless, Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, has been held up as something of a success story as it was a relatively moderate Muslim faction that rose to power in the wake of the popular uprising.
The attack Wednesday was the first targeting foreigners in Tunisia since 2011, though militants have launched attacks on security forces in recent years.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.