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37 killed in Tunisian hotel gun attack: Irish woman among dead

Scores of British and Irish holidaymakers at Sousse resort

Published 26/06/2015

A file picture taken on October 31, 2013, shows tourists enjoying the beach near a four-star hotel in the resort town of Sousse, a popular tourist destination 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of the Tunisian capital. AFP PHOTO / BECHIR BETTAIEBBECHIR BETTAIEB/AFP/Getty Images
A file picture taken on October 31, 2013, shows tourists enjoying the beach near a four-star hotel in the resort town of Sousse, a popular tourist destination 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of the Tunisian capital. AFP PHOTO / BECHIR BETTAIEBBECHIR BETTAIEB/AFP/Getty Images

An Irishwoman has been killed in the terror attack on Tunisia's Imperial Marhaba hotel and beach resort.

Two gunmen stormed the resort and killed at least 37 people, state TV said, with many feared to be British and Irish.

It is understood the woman was in her 50s and from Meath.

The woman was reportedly was shot and critically-inured in the incident and has since passed away.

Fine Gael TD Ray Butler has spoken to the woman's husband. "He is absolutely distraught," Mr Butler said.

It is understood that she was on holiday with her husband in Tunisia and was on the beach when the attack happened.

Her husband is not believed to have been on the beach at the time.

Tomas O Riordain, from Cork in Ireland but now living in the UK, was sitting at the poolside of his hotel with his wife and one of his three daughters when the gunman went on the rampage next door.

"We heard something like shots, but we thought it was a jetski backfiring or something," he said.

"We heard 10 or 15 shots in very quick succession.

"Then everyone started running in from the beach towards the hotel and we understood that something was happening."

Others from the hotel were playing volleyball very near to the gunman, he said.

"They told us that the attacker came down the street, and directly into the hotel," he told Ireland's RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta.

"He was dressed all in black, and came in firing all about him.

"We didn't see anything, but we heard everything. It was all over three or four minutes after it started."

Mr O Riordain added: "We were worried about my two daughters who were at the beach but we just had to wait and see if they came back.

"When they returned, we went straight up to the room and closed the windows and the curtains, because they thought at that time that there was a second attacker with a gun so we didn't know if there was another attacker on the loose.

"There wasn't in the end, there was a second man waiting in a getaway car, and he was arrested."

Mr O Riordain said his hotel, El Mouradi Palm Marina, is just to the left of the hotel where the attack happened.

It is the second time he has been caught up in a terrorist attack, as he was in Liverpool Street in London during the 7/7 attacks.

The attackers rushed into the Imperial Marhaba hotel in the resort town of Sousse in the latest attack on the North African country's key tourism industry, the ministry said. At least 36 other people were wounded.

Wielding Kalashnikovs, the gunmen entered from the beach, said ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui. Security forces responded, killing one of the attackers, while the hunt for the second is continuing, he said.

"A terrorist infiltrated the buildings from the back before opening fire on the residents of the hotel, including foreigners and Tunisians," he told the state news agency.

Photographs have been posted on Instagram showing a man on the beach wearing blue shorts lying face down in the sand with what looks like blood in the area around his head.

Empty sun loungers can be seen behind him and there does not appear to be anyone else near him.

Elizabeth O'Brien, an Irish woman on holiday with her two sons in the resort, described how she grabbed her children and ran for their lives when they heard gunfire erupting from one of the hotels.

"We were on the beach, my sons were in the sea and I just got out of the sea. It was about 12 o'clock and I just looked up about 500 metres from me and I saw a (hot air) balloon collapse down, then rapid firing, then I saw two of the people who were going to go up in the balloon start to run towards me - because I thought it was fireworks," the Dubliner told RTE Radio.

"So, I thought 'oh my God, it sounds like gunfire', so I just ran to the sea to my children and grabbed our things and as I was running towards the hotel, the waiters and the security on the beach started saying 'run, run run!' and we just ran to our room, which is like a little bungalow.

"So we are actually trapped in our room."

Ms O'Brien said the Irish consul in Madrid, Spain, called her to say it was a terrorist attack in the hotel next door and told her to stay where she was.

"My travel agent told me to go to the reception to speak to the rep, but I'm afraid. I'm stuck in the room with my two sons, not knowing what's going on," she said.

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

Sousse is a city on the east coast of Tunisia, about 87 miles (140km) south of the capital, Tunis. Around 1.2 million tourists visit Sousse every year, drawn by the hotels, sandy beaches and culture.

Thomas Cook, which has holidaymakers in the resort, said: "Thomas Cook has been advised of an incident that occurred earlier today in Sousse, Tunisia.

"At this time, details are not clear as to which property(ies) have been affected, with conflicting news reports.

"We are currently gathering information and will provide an update as soon as possible. Our teams on the ground are offering every support to our customers and their families in the area.

"We will continue to monitor the situation, working closely with the FCO and local authorities."

British holidaymaker Gary Pine is staying in the El Mouradi Palm Marina hotel close to where the incident happened.

Situated at the back of the hotel, near the pool area, he told Sky News by phone that he could no longer hear any noise and said the hotel was "very, very quiet" at that stage, but said it would have been very busy.

"The beach tends to be full up very quickly so it's the usual story of getting down to lay your towel at half past six to get a decent beach position, so all of the beach positions were taken," he said.

Mr Pine said that at the front of his hotel alone there would have been "several hundred" people, and he said he could see every resort along and there would have been "several hundred" more outside the others.

"So it's quite a busy beach.

"There's a lot of people walking up and down, taking in this lovely weather, so it's a very busy beach, but as I said it became apparent very quick that it was something more than firecrackers when you could hear bullets whizzing around," he said.

It is believed there are scores of Irish holidaymakers in Sousse at the moment.

While Dublin's Department of Foreign Affairs could not immediately confirm the number of citizens in the resort, it said there were no reports at this stage of any Irish hurt.

"Our embassy in Madrid and our Honorary Consul in Tunis are monitoring the situation in Sousse, Tunisia and are providing updates," a spokeswoman said.

"We are currently not aware of any Irish citizens involved in the incident.

"Anyone with concerns about family or friends can call the Department on 01 408 2000."

Holiday brands Thomson and First Choice said they were "aware of a suspected terrorist incident in Tunisia".

They added: "We are working closely with our teams in Tunisia and the relevant authorities to determine exactly what has happened and provide assistance to those affected.

"More information will be released as it becomes available."

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 Brit was killed in the terrorist attack in March at the Bardo National museum in Tunis, where gunmen stormed the tourist attraction and sparked a three-hour siege.

The country has undergone unprecedented social and political change since the 2011 uprisings and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says there is a "high" threat from terrorism.

Maajid Nawaz, chairman of the counter-extremist Quilliam Foundation, told Sky News: "I think what has been happening in France is connected to what has been happening in Tunisia and elsewhere.

"It appears to be at the moment a coordinated attack by Isis on soft targets across the world."

A spokeswoman for Thomson and First Choice said: "We are working closely with our teams in Tunisia and the relevant authorities to determine exactly what has happened and provide assistance to those affected."

Gary Pine later told Sky News: "My 22-year-old son had just gone back into the sea after a game of volleyball and then over to my left about 100 yards away we saw what we thought was firecrackers going off so we thought someone was celebrating.

"But you could see then quite quickly the panic that was starting to ensue from the next resort along from us which is about 100 yards away and so then people started exiting the beach pretty quickly, but only when you can start hearing bullets around your ears did you start to realise it was something more serious than firecrackers."

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