A Tunisian tourist guide has told how he "stared death in the face" as terrorists opened fire on his clients in an attack which left 22 dead, including 20 foreigners - one of them Australian.
Local guide Walid was inside the Bardo National Museum museum when the gunmen shot 20 tourists dead as they exited cruise ship buses parked outside.
The gunmen, disguised as soldiers, then entered the museum and took 30 more tourists hostage before police swarmed the building and killed them in a shoot-out which also claimed an officer's life.
"They opened up on anything that moved," Walid told the MailOnline.
"The choice was to run away, or face certain death or injury. I helped my clients find shelter as best I could."
Walid, who does not want to be identified by his surname for fear of reprisals, knew where all the emergency exits were the in the museum complex, which is next door to the Tunisian parliament, directing many to safety.
Prime Minister Habib Essid said on national television that the dead included five Japanese, four Italians, two Colombians and one each from Australia, France, Poland and Spain.
The brazen daytime assault sparked panic at the nearby Parliament and the National Bardo Museum, an iconic attraction in a country whose economy depends greatly on tourism.
"There are 22 dead including 20 South African, French, Polish and Italian tourists," interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said.
The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is aware of the terrorist attacks in Tunis and can confirm that no New Zealanders were caught up in these attacks, according to a MFAT spokesperson.
"There are currently eight New Zealanders registered as being in Tunisia.
"We continue to advise caution in Tunisia due to the threat from terrorism (some risk)."
New Zealanders travelling or living in Tunisia are encouraged to register their details with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Prime Minister Habib Essid said the two gunmen had been killed in a police assault and authorities were hunting for possible accomplices.
A Tunisian citizen and a policeman were also reported dead in the attack on the Bardo, famed for its collection of ancient artefacts.
Essid said the gunmen, dressed in military uniforms, opened fire on the tourists as they got off a bus and chased them inside the museum.
Aroui said 42 people were also wounded, with Health Minister Said Aidi saying they included citizens of France, South Africa, Poland, Italy and Japan.
Essid has now warned there may be others, acting as accomplices to the gunmen, who are still at large.
He described how the vulnerable tourists were "hunted down" as they exited cruise ship buses to visit the popular museum in the country's capital of Tunis, before two gunmen entered the museum to take dozens more hostage.
He said: "The terrorist fired randomly as they got off the buses. As they fled, they were hunted and chased down."
"There is a possibility, but it is not certain, that [the two gunmen] could have been helped. We are currently conducting extensive search operations to identify the two or three terrorists who possibly participated in the operation."
It is believed several hundred managed to flee the museum, while another 20-30 were taken captive before anti-terrorist security forces raided the building.
It is unclear who the attackers were, but a video posted online in December attributed to Islamic State warned the jihadis would target the country.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Islamic State militants, who have become particularly active in neighbouring Libya, were behind the attack.
She added: "The EU is determined to mobilise all the tools it has to fully support Tunisia in the fight against terrorism."
Prime Minister Essid declared in a national address, thought to be reference to the country's tourism industry: "All Tunisians should be united after this attack which was aimed at destroying the Tunisian economy."
Mohamed Ali Aroui, an Interior Ministry spokesman, described the two attackers as "Islamists" in local broadcasts, CNN reported.
National guardsmen and anti-terrorist police quickly surrounded the hugely popular tourist site, which is visited by thousands of foreigners every year.
Fleets of ambulances could also be seen driving in and out of the museum grounds, as helicopters flew overhead.
Two heavily armed terrorists were believed to have been holed-up inside with Kalashnikovs and they entered the museum disguised as soldiers, said an Interior Ministry spokesman in Tunis.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said on Radio Mosaique that one of the dead was a Tunisian. He didn't provide nationalities for the other victims.
Farouk Afi, a blogger in Tunisia, was about to meet his friend in the museum when he heard the shots go off, according to the BBC.
He said: "I was near, next door in the café, and I was going to meet with my friends. I heard it and I didn't know at that moment what it was, but the police told me go far from this place.
"[My friend] is now with many people [inside the museum] and not sure how many people have fled and injuries and deaths."
The Foreign Office also updated its travel advice for the country: "There are reports of an incident at the Tunisian parliament building and Bardo Museum in Tunis.
"You should avoid the area until further notice and follow the instructions of the Tunisian security authorities."
The museum chronicles Tunisia's history and includes one of the world's largest collections of Roman mosaics.
Tunisia recently completed a rocky road to democracy after overthrowing its authoritarian president in 2011.
It has been more stable than other countries in the region, but it has struggled with violence by Islamic extremists in recent years, including some linked to ISIS. It also has extremists linked to al-Qaeda's North Africa arm who occasionally target Tunisian security forces.
A disproportionately large number of Tunisia recruits have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The museum, built within a 15th-century palace, is the largest museum in Tunisia with collections covering two floors.
The museum is near the North African country's parliament, some four kilometres from the city centre. A new wing with contemporary architecture was built as part of a 2009 renovation, doubling the surface area. Some 8,000 works are displayed in the museum, according to the website.
The attack comes the day after Tunisian security officials confirmed the death in neighbouring Libya of a leading suspect in Tunisian terror attacks and the killings of two opposition figures in Tunisia.
Ahmed Rouissi gained the nickname of the "black box of terrorism". The information on his death was made public by security officials giving evidence in parliament and cited by the official TAP news agency
Some of the Italians at the museum were believed to have been passengers aboard the Costa Fascinosa, a cruise liner making a seven-day trip of the western Mediterranean that had docked in Tunis.
Ship owner Costa Crociere confirmed that some of its 3161 passengers were visiting the capital and that a Bardo tour was on the itinerary, but said it could not confirm how many, if any, passengers were in the museum at the time.
The cruise ship recalled all the passengers to the ship and was in touch with local authorities and the Italian foreign ministry.
Libya, which has devolved into chaos, is a source of major concern for Tunisia.
Also a major worry is the Mount Chaambi area on the border with Algeria where al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has reportedly been helping a Tunisian group which has killed numerous soldiers.
Speaking at the Louvre museum to call for international efforts to preserve the heritage of Iraq and Syria against extremist destruction, French president Francois Hollande said he had called the Tunisian president to offer support and solidarity.
"Each time a terrorist crime is committed, we are all concerned," said Mr Hollande.
French prime minister Manuel Valls said today: "We are condemning this terrorist attack in the strongest terms. We are standing by the Tunisian government. We are very alert about how the situation is evolving."
- The Daily Mail, AFP