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Unite against terror: Tunisian PM

Published 27/06/2015

Emergency vehicles at the scene after the massacre in Sousse (AP)
Emergency vehicles at the scene after the massacre in Sousse (AP)

Tunisia's prime minister has announced a string of new security measures as thousands of tourists fled the North African country in the wake of its worst terrorist attack.

Tourists crowded into the airport at Hammamet near the coastal city of Sousse where a man dressed in shorts yesterday pulled an assault rifle out of his beach umbrella and killed 38 people, mostly tourists - at least 15 of them British.

In the early hours of today, Prime Minister Habib Essid called for everyone to work against terrorism and promised financial rewards for information leading to arrests.

"The fight against terrorism is a national responsibility," he said. "We are at war against terrorism which represents a serious danger to national unity during this delicate period that the nation is going through."

The attack came the same day that a suicide bomber killed 27 people in a Shiite mosque in Kuwait and a man in France ran his van into a warehouse and hung his employer's severed head on the gate.

Mr Essid announced the call-up of army reservists and said they would be deployed in tourist sites around the country and inside hotels, while he called on the hotels themselves to do more to enforce security.

He also said that political parties and associations espousing radical ideas with suspicious funding would be closed down and around 80 mosques known for extremist preaching would be shut.

The government has been criticised for its lacklustre anti-terror measures, especially since 22 people were killed by gunmen at the national museum in March. There was also a failed suicide bomb attack in Sousse in 2013.

Top security official Rafik Chelli said that heightened security measures had been in place for the summer season around the hotel and security had responded quickly to the attack.

"The attack is an isolated operation of the sort that could affect anyone," he said, noting that just days earlier two other planned attacks had been thwarted.

The attacker, who was killed by security forces, was identified as Seifeddine Rezgui, a young student at Kairouan University. A tweet from the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack and gave his jihadi pseudonym of Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani, according to the SITE intelligence group.

The attack in Kuwait was also claimed by IS.

In south-eastern France, one of the four suspects detained over the explosion and beheading has been released, while the suspected killer was not speaking to investigators, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office said.

At the Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Sousse where the Tunisia attack took place, vans and buses were carrying away tourists today. While the hotel was not actually closing down, the tour operators had urged everyone to leave, the director said.

"We may have zero clients today but we will keep our staff," said Mohammed Becheur, adding the 370-room hotel had been at 75% occupancy before the attack.

On the beach, there was as scattering of tourists while police on horses rode along the beach and their security boats patrolled along the coast.

Tourism is a key part of Tunisia's economy and had already fallen some 25% after the March museum attack.

"It's really sad but what can you do, for everyone, for the tourists, for the people who died, for their families?" said Belgian tourist Clause Besser, as he recovered in hospital from a gunshot wound he received fleeing from the attacker. "For me, somehow, with a bullet in the leg, it's not a catastrophe. For those who died or were injured for life, it's something else."

Of the wounded, 24 were Britons, seven Tunisian, three Belgian as well as a German, Russian and Ukrainian and one unidentified, said the Health Ministry. Two were still in critical condition.

Witnesses said the Tunisian gunman also used grenades in the attack as he moved methodically from the beach to the pool and then into the hotel lobby.

"When he came he tossed a grenade and we saw only black - it was smoky," said Imen Belfekih, who works for the Imperial Marhaba Hotel where the attack took place.

Other accounts from survivors also describe hearing explosions in addition to the gunfire during the attack.

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