Police at Tunis' Bardo Museum on March 18
Police at Tunis' Bardo Museum on March 18

Tunisia is in a state of shock Thursday after the terror attack on the National Bardo Museum in the capital, which left 19 people dead and 44 wounded, most of them foreign tourists. Wednesday's attack in Tunis was a devastating reminder, both inside and outside the North African country where the Arab Spring started more than four years ago, and had indeed seen democracy beginning to take root.

"I want the Tunisian people to understand that we are in a war against terrorism and that these savage minorities do not frighten us," President Beij Caid Essebsi said Thursday after visiting the wounded in hospital.

"We will fight them without mercy to our last breath," he vowed. "Democracy will win and it will survive."

Front page of Tunisian daily Assabah

In neighboring Algeria, El Watan writes that "the terrorists wanted to make Tunisia pay for its choice of a new society of progress and modernity." The newspaper sees the hand of terrorist organizations like ISIS and Boko Haram behind the killings but insists that Tunisia "unlike Algeria, already has the best weapon to fight against extremism: democracy."

The attack and its target, one of the most visited sites in the country, is threatening not only the recent democratic system but also its tourism-dependent economy, says Tunisian daily Le Temps.

Describing a "cowardly and treacherous" attack that hit "Tunisia's heart," the French-speaking newspaper notes that yesterday's killings are making "an already compromised situation even more complicated."

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In Paris-based Libération, Algerian writer Kamel Daoud says that yesterday's "sniper attack" targeted the "true heart of the Arab world" and the "one country that proves that there's life on Allah's planet and that democracy is possible and not incompatible with Arabity."

Academic Larbi Sadiki notes in an opinion column for Al Jazeera that yesterday's events mark a "turning point" for Tunisia and "signaled a tactical shift by jihadists in Tunisia and North Africa in general," moving away from merely attacking state symbols.

With the threatening rise of jihadist groups amid the chaos in neighboring Libya, he highlights the "ease" with which the attack was carried out and says that "Tunisia's security apparatus suffers from incompetence if not out-and-out laxity." "The last thing jihadists want for Tunisia is for democracy to triumph," he concludes.

By targeting the country's top museum, the attack also aimed at a pillar of the Tunisian economy: tourism. The victims included citizens of France, Italy, Colombia, Japan, Poland and Spain.

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Spanish daily ABC

In its editorial, Switzerland's Le Temps draws a more optimistic picture. "The terrorists have hit their target as much as they have missed it. Tunisia is staggering but it won't fall," writes Angélique Mounier-Kuhn, praising those who on social networks and in the streets have already raised their voices against extremism.

Drawing published in Algeria's El Watan

Writing in the Tunisian Huffington Post, legal expert Farhat Othman urges the government "not to fall in the terrorists' trap" by refraining to maintain pre-revolution legislation and to strangle freedom. "To oppose terrorism and eradicate it, the authorities need citizens that are dignified because they're free in their lives and their ideas."

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