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Tunisian police 'deliberately stalled arrival at Sousse terror attack scene'

Tunisian law enforcement units deliberately delayed their arrival on the scene of the terrorist attack in Sousse in which 38 tourists were killed, an inquest has heard.

The hearing into the deaths of 30 Britons in the June 2015 assault by extremist Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi heard that a local investigation into the slaughter criticised some police for stalling as they made their way to the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel.

Rezgui "systematically" gunned down the innocent tourists on the hotel's beach before going into the grounds and the building and killing more, the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London was told.

CCTV footage played to the packed courtoom, full of relatives of those who died, showed the killer as he approached the hotel with his gun hidden under a parasol. More graphic scenes showed him enter the building and shoot at least one tourist.

Samantha Leek QC, counsel to the inquest, said a report by Tunisian Judge Akremi had identified failings by local units which could have ended the slaughter before more police arrived and shot Rezgui dead.

She said the inquest would hear evidence from that report citing an unnamed interior minister as saying some Tunisian security officers nearby had consciously slowed down their arrival.

Ms Leek said: "He said the units that should have intervened in the events deliberately and unjustifiably slowed down to delay their arrival at the hotel.

"They had the ability to put an end to the attack before the police arrived but wasted a considerable amount of time in getting to the hotel."

Footage shown to the inquest included the shooting of 72-year-old grandfather Bruce Wilkinson, from Goole, East Yorkshire. A woman, believed to be a family member, left the room before it was shown.

Another c lip was shown of the gunman being dropped off in a white van, before walking away carrying a large item.

In another he was seen walking along the shoreline, past a tent and yellow boats, with people seen running in panic in what is believed to have been the beginning of the attack.

Ms Leek added that on June 26 2015 Rezgui " entered the hotel from the beach, carrying an automatic weapon and a number of explosives".

She added: "He systematically took the lives of 38 people who had travelled to Tunisia for enjoyment, luxury and relaxation."

An armed guard on the beach opened fire on Rezgui, but fell to the ground "seemingly unconscious" after the gunman threw a grenade at him, she added.

This led to a local speedboat driver, named as AI, picking his gun up and attempting to confront Rezgui. However he was unable to work the weapon.

She said Rezgui was thought to have acted alone on the beach - albeit with an accomplice in a van nearby - and AI brandishing the gun may have sparked reports at the time of a second gunman involved in the shooting.

The hearing, scheduled to last for seven weeks, will also examine security in place at the hotel by tour firm TUI and the travel advice issued for Tunisia by the UK Government.

Before Monday's hearing the Government applied for certain elements of the inquests to be kept private over concerns about national security.

An earlier hearing was told that many families feared the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) may have failed in its responsibilities to thousands of British tourists.

The Sousse atrocity came months after a terror attack at the Bardo National Museum in the capital, Tunis, in March 2015 in which 24 people were killed.

Some of the families of those caught in the Sousse attack said they had been assured by tour operator Thomson that it was safe to travel to Tunisia after the Bardo attack.

TUI, the travel company that owns Thomson, is represented at the inquest, as is the Government.

Ms Leek said the inquest would hear evidence "critical of TUI" as well as witnesses on behalf of the firm.

When Ms Leek referred to the possibility of asking witnesses questions that relate to "sensitive security material", Coroner Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith said: "I am very keen to avoid any in-camera hearings."

Detective Superintendent Mark Gower, from the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism unit, took the court through CCTV and 3D maps of the area of the attack. He s aid several requests were made to Tunisian authorities for material but only images from eight cameras was received.

"We know there were other cameras ... whether they were genuine or dummy cameras we don't know," he said.

The gunman's route - said to be approximately 2.9km from the point he was dropped off to the point he was killed - was digitally reconstructed and shown to the court, with pictures of the victims appearing where they were shot.

Mobile phone footage of part of the attack recorded by a Tunisian witness was shown, and the clip featured loud gunshots, shouting, and people running in panic.

Part of the clip - which captured bodies - was pixellated, and it featured the sounds of more gunfire towards the end.

Another clip, described as "very graphic" by Ms Leek, showed the gunman's body face down on a road with blood on the ground beside him after he was shot.

Jane Marriott, a former UK ambassador to Yemen, was a director of the Foreign Office's Middle East North Africa Directorate at the time of the attacks on the Bardo and in Sousse.

She told the inquest that on March 19, the day after the Bardo attack in Tunis, FCO officials and minister Tobias Ellwood met in London to discuss the travel advice to Tunisia.

It was decided to keep the advice at the same level, and not to advise Britons against any travel to tourist areas of Tunisia, but the phrase "further attacks are possible" was added to the Government's travel advice website.

She added that countries who also lost nationals in the first attack, including France, Japan, Spain and Russia, had also kept their tourist travel advice at the same level as before the attack. The only country to alter its travel advice was Poland.

She was asked whether travel companies could lobby to have the advice set at a level they wanted and said no, it was based only on the threat to British nationals.

In a section of her statement read in court, Ms Marriott said: " There was agreement that whilst we should not discourage tourism to Tunisia, our primary objective was tourism security.

"We needed to see an improvement in tourist security if we were to keep travel advice as it was."

Mrs Marriott told the court there were limits on what the Government could force other countries to do, but that officials on the ground had met with local politicians and officials and reported signs that security in tourist areas had been improved following the Bardo attack.

She added: "What we can and we do say is that we want to see an improvement in your security. We want a commitment that British tourists and nationals are properly protected."

The inquest continues.


From Belfast Telegraph