Skip to main content

Tunisia: Attack on Djerba synagogue was premeditated by national guard member

Tunisia’s interior minister identified the assailant and revealed details of the attack at an ancient synagogue on the island of Djerba that killed at least five people.
Women gather oustide a house at the Hara Kebira, the main Jewish quarter in the resort island of Djerba, after attending a ceremony at the Ghriba synagogue following a shooting spree by a police officer on the southern Tunisian island on May 10, 2023. Tunisian authorities were investigating the shootings that claimed five lives and sparked mass panic during a Jewish pilgrimage at Africa's oldest synagogue today. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP) (Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images)

Tunisia’s Interior Ministry has identified the man behind an attack that killed five people earlier this week, saying Thursday that he intentionally targeted a synagogue on the Mediterranean island of Djerba in a premeditated act. The ministry described the shooting as a “cowardly criminal attack” but refrained from calling it an act of terrorism.

On Tuesday, a member of the Tunisian national guard opened fire at the historic El-Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, killing three of his fellow guards and two civilians. At least 10 other people were injured in the attack, according to the ministry.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Interior Minister Kamel Fekih identified the assailant as Wissam Khazri, a member of the national guard stationed at the naval base in the island’s port town of Aghir. Fekih recounted the details of the attack, saying Khazri killed one of his colleagues at the base before seizing his weapon and moving to a schoolyard near the synagogue.

Khazri waited there for a police car to leave before entering the synagogue and shot the first victim at the site at 8:13 p.m. on Tuesday. Fekih said that he opened fire indiscriminately on the security guards before being surrounded and shot.

The French National Terrorism Prosecution Office has launched its own probe into the attack. Benjamin Haddad, who was French, was killed in the attack along with his cousin Aviel Haddad, who held dual Tunisian and Israeli citizenship.

The shooting coincided with the annual Jewish pilgrimage that is part of Lag Ba’omer celebration. Thousands of Jews from around the world gather at El-Ghriba synagogue, believed to be the oldest in Africa dating back 2,500 years.

Jews have lived on Djerba since 500 B.C., the Associated Press reported. Djerba’s Jewish population is one of North Africa’s biggest, although in recent years it declined to 1,500, down from 100,000 in the 1960s, AP said. 

Each year, the pilgrimage revives a debate in Tunisia on normalization with Israel. Many parties have repeatedly called for criminalizing any normalization of relations with the Jewish state, accusing authorities of exploiting the pilgrimage to Djerba to further normalization. Tunisia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, but Israelis can apply for a visa to travel to Djerba for the pilgrimage.

According to the London-based Minority Rights Group International organization, between 1,500 to 2,000 Jews currently live in Tunisia, with the majority believed to be concentrated in Djerba.

On Wednesday, President Kais Saied condemned the attack on the synagogue, calling it a “criminal and cowardly” act.

“I want to reassure the Tunisian people and the whole world that Tunisia will remain safe despite this type of attempt intended to disturb its stability,” he said during a meeting of the national security council.

During his electoral campaign in 2019, Saied, who has since cemented his one-man rule, labeled normalization with Israel “high treason.”

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Security Briefing Security Briefing

Security Briefing

Middle East defense and security in your inbox

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial