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Tunisia terror-link suspects held

Published 29/06/2015

Flowers at the scene of the massacre in Sousse as sources warned the British death toll could rise to at least 30 (PA)
Flowers at the scene of the massacre in Sousse as sources warned the British death toll could rise to at least 30 (PA)
Trudy Jones, who has been confirmed as one of the Britons who died in the terrorist attack in Sousse (Gwent Police/PA)
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was extraordinarily difficult to predict where the next attack would happen

Seven suspected associates of the Tunisian beach gunman have been arrested, as it was announced Britain will observe a national minute's silence for the victims of the massacre.

Tunisian interior minister Mohamed Gharsalli announced the arrests of several Tunisians allegedly linked to Seifeddine Rezgui.

Authorities say he acted alone during the rampage in the resort of Sousse but had accomplices who supported him before, providing him with weapons and logistical support.

Seven people were arrested in at least three different cities and are being questioned in the capital, Tunis.

The development came as David Cameron announced there will be a nationwide minute's silence at midday on Friday, while Home Secretary Theresa May condemned the "despicable act of cruelty" after she visited the scene of the attacks.

A total of 38 people, including up to 30 Britons, died after 23-year-old student Rezgui opened fire on Friday. The self-proclaimed Islamic State - also known as Isil - later claimed responsibility.

Announcing the minute's silence, Mr Cameron told MPs: "I know the whole country will want to share in a moment of remembrance."

The Prime Minister, who earlier described the "existential threat" posed by IS as "the struggle of our generation", told the Common s: "We will not give up our way of life or cower in the face of terrorism."

He added: "This is not the war between Islam and the West which Isil want people to believe - it is a generational struggle between a minority of extremists who want hatred to flourish and the rest of us who want freedom to prosper - together we will prevail."

He said Britons were not being advised to stay away from Tunisia's coastal resorts despite the bloody events at S ousse, while he also disclosed that a major exercise will take place in London this week to ensure the UK is prepared to deal with terrorism.

Mrs May laid flowers and observed a period of silence at the scene of the attack.

Speaking later at a press conference, she said: "How could a place of such beauty, of relaxation and happiness, be turned into such a scene of brutality and destruction?"

She said she had heard "horror stories" of those caught up in the attack and accounts of "great bravery", including Mathew James, who was hit in the hip, chest and pelvis as he shielded wife-to-be Saera Wilson from gunfire.

Mrs May held talks with Tunisian, German, French and Belgian ministers on addressing the threat posed by IS.

"We are very clear that the terrorists will not win. We will be united in working together to defeat them, but united also in working to defend our values," she said.

Downing Street said all British nationals injured would be returned within the next 24 hours.

Four people needing treatment are being flown back to the UK on board an RAF C17 plane with "medevac" teams experienced at bringing injured service personnel back from operations overseas.

A football club said it was "deeply shocked and saddened" by the death of one of its former players and his wife.

Former Birmingham City Football Club player Denis Thwaites and his wife Elaine are reported to have been killed in the attack.

The family of the couple, from Blackpool, Lancashire, appealed for information about their whereabouts.

The club said: "We are deeply shocked and saddened by the death of former player Denis Thwaites and his wife Elaine in the Tunisian terrorist attack.

"Our thoughts are with Denis' family. The club also offers its condolences to all who are mourning loved ones due to this atrocity."

Relatives of a 24-year-old graduate who was killed paid tribute to her as a "shining light" who radiated happiness to those around her.

In a statement, the fiance and immediate family of Carly Lovett said they were praying that the "evil" seen in Tunisia would end to spare others the heartbreak they have experienced.

The statement was issued through Lincolnshire Police on behalf of Carly's parents, Joanne and Kev, her fiance Liam, sister Jordan, brother Daniel, stepfather John, stepmother Tracey, and stepbrothers Simon and Max.

The family said: "Carly was and always will be our beautiful shining light.

"She was funny, clever, artistic and radiated love and happiness around her.

"Carly recently got engaged to Liam, her childhood sweetheart of 10 years. Both were excited and looking forward to a bright future together filled with love and happiness.

"This has now been cruelly taken away."

A 52-year-old man who flew to Tunisia with his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary has been confirmed dead, his family said.

Philip Heathcote, who lived in Felixstowe, Suffolk, and was originally from Manchester, had been missing feared dead since Friday.

His wife, Allison Heathcote, 48, is in an induced coma after also being shot on the beach. The couple were due to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary today.

The Prime Minister said the Government is working "as fast as we can" to get information to families still waiting in anguish for news of missing loved ones three days after the attack.

His spokeswoman said delays in identifying the dead are due in part to the fact that the holidaymakers may not have been carrying identification at the time of the attack.

In two cases where authorities "feared the worst", individuals thought to have possibly been victims of the gunman were this morning tracked down alive and well in the UK, she said.

Mr Cameron's spokeswoman said UK authorities were "working closely" with relatives of those killed to offer help with the repatriation of the bodies of their loved ones, and some were expected to be brought home this week.

Holiday firms Thomson and First Choice issued a statement saying they are "aware that some families continue to wait for news of their loved ones".

It added: "We would like to reassure those in this position that we are doing everything we can to provide information as soon as we are able to do so."

Scotland Yard has said more than 600 officers are involved in what is its largest counter-terrorism operation since the 7/7 bombings.

London mayor Boris Johnson said: "Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. We don't at the moment think there is any read-across with security in London.

"Clearly it is also very poignant that this should happen just at the moment that we are preparing next week to memorialise 7/7."

President Barack Obama called Mr Cameron to offer his condolences over the loss of British life and to voice continued US support in the wake of the attack.

"The leaders discussed the importance of working together with countries like Tunisia to tackle the threat posed by Islamist extremism," a No 10 spokesman said.

The British Red Cross has sent four specialist psycho-social volunteers to support British holidaymakers caught up in the attack and has opened a supportline for people in the UK on 0844 4631 345.

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