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Simchat Torah Tragedy: Tunisian Cop Kills 4 Jews and Wounds 8 Others when He Opens Fire on Worshippe

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A Tunisian policeman fatally shot four Jews, one of them a four-year-old boy, and wounded eight others yesterday when he opened fire on worshippers attending Simchat Torah services at the El Ghirba synagogue on Jerba island just off the Tunisian coast. He then shot to death a Tunisian truck driver before he was apprehended by security agents who said the killer had gone berserk.

According to reports from Tunis today, the Jews gunned down at the synagogue were identified as Haim Cohen, 56, who died instantly; four-year-old Ben Inane Haddad who died at a hospital; and two other adults, one a 20-year-old woman, who also died at a hospital. A teenage girl identified as Judith Boukhris was reported on the danger list. The other Jewish wounded have been released from the hospital, Tunisian sources said.

The synagogue attack sent shock waves through Tunisia’s 5,000-member Jewish community where tension has been running high since the October I Israel Air Force raid on Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters near Tunis in which about 60 Palestinians and Tunisians were killed. It also stirred deep emotions among former Tunisian Jews living in France.

Tunisia’s Premier, Mohammed M’Zali, visited the scene of the synagogue attack in the old Jewish quarter of Hara Srira on Jerba yesterday. He assured the country’s Jewish community that the administration of President Habib Bourguiba will do everything possible to protect Jewish lives, property and civil rights. M’Zali blamed neighboring Libya for inflaming anti-Jewish passions.

He noted that since the Israeli air raid, Libyan radio has been calling on Tunisians to seek revenge and “massacre all of Tunisia’s Jews.” M’Zali urged the Jewish community to remain calm.

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS

Eyewitness accounts said the attack occurred shortly after 9:30 a.m. local time when the historic El Ghirba synagogue, the oldest in Tunisia, was packed with worshippers. The policeman “who suddenly went berserk,” according to the witnesses, opened fire and pandemonium broke out in the synagogue as the dead and wounded fell, crying out in pain.

Tunisian authorities said the killer raced to a nearby highway where he tried to commandeer a truck. When the driver, a Moslem, resisted, he was shot to death. Security agents later cornered the policeman who, they said, resisted arrest and was slightly wounded.

Tunisian Jews were described today as being “very, very worried” despite Bourguiba’s long personal record of moderation and promises of protection. Community leaders and members plainly fear new outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence. They point out that when the synagogue was being attacked, local school children were holding anti-Israel demonstrations nearby.

In France, Tunisian and other Jews saw parallels between the Jerba shootings and the 1980 bomb attack on the Rue Copernic synagogue in Paris which killed four people and wounded nine. It also occurred on Simchat Torah.

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