A Lag B’Omer celebration at the El Ghriba shul on the island of Djerba in Tunisia on Tuesday ended in tragedy when a Tunisian naval guard carried out an attack, killing a security guard and two Jews outside the shul. Nine others were injured, including four civilians.
The Jewish victims were later identified as Aviel Hadad, 30, H’yd, who lived in Djerba, and his cousin, Ben Hadad, 42, H’yd, a resident of France who was visiting. Aviel, H’yd, had Israeli citizenship and had lived in Israel for some time but had returned to Tunisia.
The perpetrator, a security guard in the National Guard naval center, shot his fellow security guard, seized extra ammunition and made his way toward the shul. When he arrived there, he began shooting indiscriminately at the security guards stationed outside and at civilians, killing two Jews who were in the parking lot and a security guard. Five other security guards and four civilians were injured.
Fortunately, the security guards succeeded in shooting him, preventing him from entering the shul and carrying out a worse massacre. Security guards also surrounded the shul, with about 1,000 Jews inside at the time, and placed it in lockdown. The Jews in the shul remained in lockdown for about four hours while the authorities investigated the attack, during which they could hear the exchange of gunfire and helicopters hovering above the area. Following the completion of the investigation, they were evacuated under heavy security to their homes and hotels.
Rav Aharon Mazuz, one of the leaders of the community in Djerba, told Kan on Wednesday morning: “We had a great neis here yesterday. A major massacre was avoided because the shooter was prevented from entering the shul. This is the third attack on the shul and we are in contact with the authorities regarding security measures. None of the Jews in Djerba are leaving their homes today. All the businesses are closed.”
Rav Baniel Hadad, a cousin of the victims who lived in Djerba until three years ago, said: “Relations with our Arab neighbors are excellent, and there are even friendships. But beneath the surface there is enmity. The Lag B’Omer event is the main event in Djerba and hundreds of people come from throughout North Africa, Europe and Israel. The Arabs also participate.”
“This attack has caused great fear in the Jewish community. The Jews were barricaded for hours in the shul until they were allowed out. My mother and sister were there yesterday and are still shaken up.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry contacted Israelis in the area and received real-time reports. One of the Jews in the shul at the time was former Yamina MK Yomtov Kalfon.
The community’s Lag BaOmer event attracts thousands of visitors from around the world to one of Africa’s oldest shuls.
A truck bombing killed 20 people in 2002 at the entrance to the shul during the Lag BaOmer celebrations in Djerba. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for that attack.
The El Ghriba synagogue is located in the former Jewish village of Harah Sghira and, according to one tradition, was established by a group of Kohanim, from the Bais Hamikdash, who supposedly settled on the island immediately after the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. (The tradition holds that the refugees brought a door and a stone from the destroyed Bais Hamikdash with them.)