Low Turnout in Tunisia Amid Terror Warning

Tunisia claims all is safe after Israel warns of concrete terror plans to attack Jews visiting ancient synagogue from Temple times.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

A Jewish worshiper prays during the pilgrimage to Ghriba synagogue (file)
A Jewish worshiper prays during the pilgrimage to Ghriba synagogue (file)

The Jewish pilgrimage to Ghriba Synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba is to take place Wednesday for Lag B'Omer under extra security, after the Bardo museum massacre and Israel's warning of concrete threats of a terror attack plot.

Hundreds are expected to take part, unlike the thousands who flocked to Africa's oldest synagogue for the annual pilgrimage in the years before a 2002 suicide bombing claimed by Al-Qaeda that murdered 21 people, reports AFP.

Barriers have been erected on access routes to Djerba in southern Tunisia and police checkpoints around Hara Kbira, the Jewish district of the island, an AFP journalist said.

The extra security follows the March 18 attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group, that killed 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian policeman.

Apart from Tunisian pilgrims, some 500 others are expected in Djerba for the two-day religious festival from France, Israel, Italy and Britain, according to the organizers.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that intelligence has revealed "concrete threats" of terror attacks against Jewish or Israeli targets in the North African country.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli tried to play down the danger, denying the warning and accusing Israel of trying to "damage the reputation of Tunisia."

During a visit to Djerba two days earlier, Gharsalli claimed that despite the terror attacks, "Tunisia is a safe country and Djerba too is a safe city. Visitors from the world over are welcome. What I am saying now is a response to many who cast doubt over Tunisia's security and its capacity to secure celebrations."

Many Jews have visited the tombs of famous rabbis on Djerba island for Lag B'Omer, where one of the last Jewish communities in the Arab world still lives. Over 850,000 Jews were violently expelled from Arab countries in the 1950s.

The Ghriba Synagogue is said to have been founded in 586 BCE by Jews fleeing the Babylonian occupation of Israel and destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem.

Tunisian Jews now number around 1,500, compared with an estimated 100,000 when the country gained independence from France in 1956, with the once large Jewish community driven out by the Muslim population.

Tunisian authorities have been struggling to reassure foreign visitors they will be safe in the wake of the Bardo murders, which have hit its key tourism sector that accounts for 7% of the country's GDP.

Tourism was already suffering from the fallout of Tunisia's 2011 revolution.