Death toll mounts after Tunisia resort attack
Two gunmen opened fire on a beach near two hotels in the coastal resort city of Sousse
At least 37 people, including British, German and Belgian tourists, were killed and 36 wounded when at least one gunman opened fire on a Tunisian beachside hotel in the popular resort of Sousse on Friday, Al Arabiya News Channel reported, quoting health sources.
Earlier death tolls were corroborated by the interior ministry.
Police were still clearing the area around the Imperial Marhaba hotel and the body of one gunman lay at the scene with a Kalashnikov assault rifle after he was shot in an exchange of gunfire, a security source at the scene said.
It was the second major attack in the North African country this year, and took place during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
“One attacker opened fire with a Kalashnikov on tourists and Tunisians on the beach of the hotel,” said a hotel worker at the site. “It was just one attacker. He was a young guy dressed in shorts like he was a tourist himself.”
Tunisia, which has been hailed as a model of democratic transition since its 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ uprising, is one of the most secular countries in the Arab world. Its beach resorts and nightclubs on the Mediterranean are popular with European visitors.
No one immediately claimed the attack. But Islamist jihadists have attacked North African tourist sites before, seeing them as legitimate targets because of their open Western lifestyles and tolerance of alcohol.
Footage taken by the Tunisia News Network shows the aftermath of the attack.
Witnesses described scenes of panic and confusion after the shooting at a hotel in the district of Sousse, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of Tunis.
Irishwoman Elizabeth O’Brien, who was staying at a neighboring hotel with her two sons, said there was panic on the beach when gunfire erupted.
“I honestly thought it was fireworks and then when I saw people running... I thought, my God, it is shooting,” she told Irish radio station RTE. “The waiters and the security on the beach started to say ‘Run, run, run!’“
Gary Pine, a product manager from Bristol in southwest England, said he heard an estimated 20 to 30 shots before tourists ran to their hotels for cover.
“Over to our left, about 100 yards (meters) or so away, we saw what we thought was firecrackers going off,” he told Britain’s Sky News television by telephone.
“But you could see quite quickly the panic that was starting to ensue from the next resort along from us.
“People were exiting the beach pretty quick.
“Only when you could start hearing bullets whizzing around your ear do you realise it was something a lot more serious than firecrackers.
“There was a mass exodus off the beach.
“My son was in the sea at the time and of course my wife and myself were shouting for him to get out the sea quick and as we ran up the beach he said: ‘I just saw someone get shot.’
“As we exited the beach... there was some kind of explosion from the complex next door. So we knew that a situation was developing, if not had ended.
“I’m now stood in reception with probably 200 other international guests. Do we leave? Do we stay? Where do we go? What do we do?”
Pine said his hotel’s initial advice was for people to lock themselves in their rooms, but then they asked guests to gather in reception.
He said there would have been several hundred people from each hotel on the beach.
“The gunshots I heard, I estimate 20 or 30 shots, it seemed to be quite a bit, hence I thought it was firecrackers. It seemed to break out from nothing at all.”
Sousse is one of Tunisia’s most popular beach resorts, drawing visitors from Europe and neighboring North African countries. Tourism is also a major source of income for the government.
Tunisia has been on high alert since March, when Islamist militant gunmen attacked the Bardo museum in Tunis, killing a group of foreign tourists in one of the worst attacks in a decade in the North African country.
Since its 2011 uprising to oust autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has been praised for its peaceful democratic transition. But it has also seen the rise of hardline conservative Islamist movements.
Several thousand Tunisian jihadists have left to fight in Syria, Iraq and neighboring Libya, where some have set up jihadist training camps and promised to return to attack their homeland.
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