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Tunisia attack: Desperate British families try to track down missing loved ones after massacre

By Claire Cromie

Published 27/06/2015

SOUSSE, TUNISIA - JUNE 27: A woman grieves as she lay flowers at the beach next to the Imperial Marhaba Hotel where 38 people were killed yesterday in a terrorist attack on June 27, 2015 in Souuse,Tunisia. Habib Essid Prime Minister of Tunisia announced a clampdown on security after the attack on a holiday resort.. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
SOUSSE, TUNISIA - JUNE 27: A woman grieves as she lay flowers at the beach next to the Imperial Marhaba Hotel where 38 people were killed yesterday in a terrorist attack on June 27, 2015 in Souuse,Tunisia. Habib Essid Prime Minister of Tunisia announced a clampdown on security after the attack on a holiday resort.. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
A picture taken on June 27, 2015, shows the cordoned-off beach of the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis, in the aftermath of a shooting attack on the beach resort claimed by the Islamic State group. The IS group on June 27 claimed responsibility for the massacre in the seaside resort that killed nearly 40 people, most of them British tourists, in the worst attack in the country's recent history. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARDKENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
SOUSSE, TUNISIA - JUNE 27: A woman grieves as she lay flowers at the beach next to the Imperial Marhaba Hotel where 38 people were killed yesterday in a terrorist attack on June 27, 2015 in Souuse,Tunisia. Habib Essid Prime Minister of Tunisia announced a clampdown on security after the attack on a holiday resort.. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Tourists comfort each other after the mass shooting in the resort town of Sousse, a popular tourist destination 140 kilometers (90 miles) south of the Tunisian capital, on June 26, 2015. At least 37 people, including foreigners, were killed at a Tunisian beach resort packed with holidaymakers, in the North African country's worst attack in recent history. AFP PHOTO/FETHI BELAIDFETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisian security forces man a checkpoint at the entrance of the resort area where is located the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis, on June 27, 2015, in the aftermath of a shooting attack on the beach resort claimed by the Islamic State group. The IS group on June 27 claimed responsibility for the massacre in the seaside resort that killed nearly 40 people, most of them British tourists, in the worst attack in the country's recent history. AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAIDFETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Blood stains are seen on a deckchair at the beach of the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis, on June 27, 2015, in the aftermath of a shooting attack on the beach resort claimed by the Islamic State group. The IS group on June 27 claimed responsibility for the massacre in the seaside resort that killed nearly 40 people, most of them British tourists, in the worst attack in the country's recent history. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARDKENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
Tourists leave Tunisia at the Enfidha International airport after a shooting attack at the Imperial hotel in the resort town of Sousse, a popular tourist destination 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of the Tunisian capital, on June 27, 2015. At least 38 people, including foreigners, were killed in a mass shooting at a Tunisian beach resort packed with holidaymakers, in the North African country's worst attack in recent history. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARDKENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
SOUSSE, TUNISIA - JUNE 27: A man places flowers at the beach next to the Imperial Marhaba Hotel where 38 people were killed yesterday in a terrorist attack on June 27, 2015 in Souuse,Tunisia. Habib Essid Prime Minister of Tunisia announced a clampdown on security after the attack on a holiday resort.. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
SOUSSE, TUNISIA - JUNE 27: Flowers are placed at the beach next to the Imperial Marhaba Hotel where 38 people were killed yesterday in a terrorist attack on June 27, 2015 in Souuse,Tunisia. Habib Essid Prime Minister of Tunisia announced a clampdown on security after the attack on a holiday resort.. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Emergency vehicles at the scene after the massacre in Sousse (AP)
Lorna Carty
Tunisian security forces gather people in the hotel
Tunisian police officers at a hotel in Sousse where a terrorist attack took place (AP)

Desperate appeals for help from relatives of British tourists holidaying in Tunisia have gone viral online as families try to track down their loved ones in the wake of the massacre.

Up to 39 people were shot dead at a beach resort in Sousse when a 23-year-old Isis militant started mowing down holidaymakers with a machine gun.

At least five of the dead are British but that number is expected to rise substantially, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has indicated.

As the agonising wait for victims to be officially named continues, Abta has said there are an estimated 20,000 UK travellers currently on holiday with Abta members in Tunisia.

But it said there will also be a number of holidaymakers who have travelled independently.

One man is anxiously searching for his father who was on the beach when terrorists in Tunisia opened fire.

Ross Naylor has launched an online plea for any information on father Scott Chalkley who was on holiday with partner Sue Davey.

The pair were staying at the Imperial Hotel in Sousse - and Mr Naylor said he is growing more desperate after not hearing any news on their whereabouts despite several calls to their mobiles, hotel and a local hospital.

Mr Naylor wrote on Twitter: "Haven't spoke to my Dad since the attack, please, please, please RT as he is missing along with his partner #Tunisia."

And the 23-year-old said his fears had increased after hotel staff told him his father and partner were on the beach after finding some of their bags on the sand.

Mr Naylor, of Derby, said he had since called the Foreign Office but has yet to hear any news back.

He has since taken to social media, with a post pleading for information being retweeted 5,000 times.

Mr Naylor described his father as a "loving, typical bloke".

Speaking to the Mirror, he added: "He's a fun-loving guy. Even though he is 20 years older than me, he's like a mate - that's how it is.

"They say no news is good news, but I would just rather hear something.

"The waiting is killing me. I don't know what to do with myself.

"I just want to hear that he's safe."

Anyone with concerns about their friends or family, or who is in Tunisia and wants to let the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to know they are safe, should call 0207 008 0000 or complete an online form here.

Holiday firm Tui, which runs the Thomson and First Choice brands, confirmed that a number of those who died were its customers.

So far it has repatriated 1,000 customers - 5,400 still remain in the area, with everything being done to help those who wanted to return to get on flights.

David Cameron said today the Government was working with the Tunisian authorities to identify the final number of British casualties.

"But I'm afraid that the British public need to be prepared for the fact that many of those killed were British," he said.

"Wherever they are in the world, these terrorists will not succeed, for as much as they try to divide people they will only unite us more strongly in our determination to defeat these Islamist extremists and all they stand for."

The victims are thought to have been killed by a 23-year-old Tunisian aviation student who disguised himself as a tourist and began firing at holidaymakers on a beach using a Kalashnikov he had hidden in a beach umbrella.

The student, identified as Seifeddine Rezgui, was reportedly laughing as he carried out the massacre and deliberately selected western tourists.

An eyewitness quoted by local radio said: "He was laughing and joking around, like a normal guy. He was choosing who to shoot. Some people, he was saying to them, 'You go away'. He was choosing tourists, British, French."

He was shot dead by police.

Tunisian president Habib Essid said Rezgui, also known by jihadi pseudonym Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani, came from the town of Gaafour in the Siliana region and had been a student at the University of Kairouan.

Terror group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack at the RIU Imperial Marhaba and the RIU Bellevue.

The worst such attack in Tunisia's history came on the same day a man was found decapitated after an attack by suspected Islamic extremists on a French factory and a Shiite mosque in Kuwait was bombed, killing at least 25 people.

Although the attacks do not appear to be directly linked they come after the so-called Islamic State called for their followers "to make Ramadan a month of calamities for the non-believers".

"Once again, cowardly and traitorous hands have struck Tunisia, targeting its security and that of its children and visitors," Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi said.

Tension has been high in Tunisia since an attack on the National Bardo Museum in March which killed 22 people, mostly foreign tourists including a Briton.

A suicide bomber blew himself up in a failed attack on the beach in Sousse in October 2013, while 21 people lost their lives in an attack in the country earlier this year.

One victim already identified is Irish mother-of-two Lorna Carty, from Robinstown, Co Meath.

Family friends said she had taken her husband on holiday to help him recover from heart surgery, and she was believed to have gone to the beach by herself when the gunman went on the rampage.

She was a nurse in a GP surgery in Navan, aged in her 50s, and had a son and daughter. Her husband Declan, a dairy farmer, was said to be uninjured but "absolutely distraught".

Customers due to travel out in the next two days are advised to contact their tour operator for their options. Those due to travel after this are advised to wait for further information, it said.

Meanwhile easyJet said it would provide an additional flight from Monastir, Tunisia, later this afternoon for customers who wish to fly home early.

It said in a statement: "We are proactively contacting all of our customers in Tunisia about this flight, though customers can also contact easyJet on 03303655000 to be booked on to this flight. The flight is due to depart Monastir at 17.45 local time."

It added: "EasyJet is allowing passengers who are booked to travel to Monastir within the next 14 days to a free flight transfer on any date and on any route, or alternatively a flight voucher to the value of their unused flight sectors. Passengers wishing to do so are advised to call easyJet customer services team."

Thomas Cook said it had sent an additional flight to Tunisia this morning to repatriate customers who wished to return home. A second flight was due to depart later today, the company said in a statement.

"We can confirm that the reported hotels are not offered by Thomas Cook, and that none of our customers or staff were in residence at the time of the incident. However, we do currently have customers staying in other parts of the resort, and our experienced teams on the ground are continuing to offer every support to them and their families at this difficult time. Thomas Cook would like to extend its most sincere condolences to the family and friends of those affected."

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