update desk

Jewish cousins among victims of Tunisia synagogue shooting

The terrorist killed at least five at the Ghriba Synagogue during Lag B’Omer celebrations.

Cousins Aviel Haddad and Benjamin Haddad were murdered at the synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, on May 9, 2023. Source: Twitter.
Cousins Aviel Haddad and Benjamin Haddad were murdered at the synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, on May 9, 2023. Source: Twitter.

Two of the four people shot dead in a terrorist attack at a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba on May 9 were identified the next day as Aviel Haddad, a dual Israeli-Tunisian citizen, and Benjamin Haddad of France.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed that Aviel held Israeli citizenship.

“Among the dead were two Jewish cousins, one with Israeli citizenship and the other with foreign citizenship,” said the ministry in a statement, adding that officials were in contact with the family of the deceased and had offered assistance.

A Tunisian national guard member fired “randomly” at people near Tunisia’s Ghriba Synagogue on Tuesday evening as Lag B’Omer celebrations were underway. He was shot dead after killing the Haddads and two security guards.

A third security guard succumbed to his wounds, the TAP news agency reported on Wednesday, citing hospital officials. That raised the death toll to six, including the shooter.

He also wounded at least eight others.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller condemned the killings, writing on Twitter that Washington “deplores the attack in Tunisia coinciding with the annual Jewish pilgrimage that draws faithful to the El Ghriba Synagogue from around the world. We express condolences to the Tunisian people and commend the rapid action of Tunisian security forces.”

Video footage shared on social media appeared to depict loud gunshots that were audible within the synagogue complex, and some reports said that hundreds of worshippers—even up to 1,000—were present.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. embassy in Tunisia posted that officials—including Joey Hood, the American ambassador to Tunisia, and Deborah Lipstadt, special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, as well as senior Tunisian officials—had attended the opening ceremony of an annual pilgrimage at the synagogue the previous evening.

“I am sickened and heartbroken by the lethal, antisemitic attack targeting the Ghriba synagogue in Djerba during the Lag B’Omer celebrations, with thousands of Jewish pilgrims in attendance. Together with Amb. Joey Hood, I was celebrating at the synagogue the day before the attack,” Lipstadt tweeted.

Afra Al Hameli, director of strategic communications at the UAE foreign affairs and international cooperation ministry, posted that the Emirates condemns the attack, praises the “vigilance and efficiency” of the Tunisian government response and expresses “its sympathy to the families of victims of this heinous crime.”

The Cyprus foreign affairs ministry also condemned the “heinous terrorist attack,” adding that “we strongly condemn all forms of antisemitism and we express our sincere condolences to the Government and people of Tunisia.”

The European Jewish Congress offered “deepest condolences” to the victims’ families, calling the tragic attack “a cowardly act of terrorism.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, stated that conference members have “fond memories” of a recent visit to the synagogue. “Yet again, we grieve for the loss of life at the historic El Ghirba Synagogue,” he stated. “We express our gratitude and admiration to the security services without whose action this tragedy would have been even greater. The world must unite and loudly condemn yet another cowardly attack on Jews at worship.”

Some believe that the synagogue—or at least, its antecedent—dates back to the exile after the destruction of either the First Temple (586 BCE) or the Second Temple (70 C.E.). The current building is late 19th century, apparently on the site of a former sixth-century synagogue.

It has been the site of previous attacks, including a firebombing in 2018.

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