Shaken tourists flee Tunisia

Shaken tourists flee Tunisia

Plane loads of shocked foreign tourists flew home from Tunisia after a beachside massacre killed 38 people and prompted a major security clampdown.

The North African nation, which relies heavily on tourism, announced plans to deploy troops at vulnerable sites and shut dozens of mosques accused of inciting extremism.

Britain said that at least 15 of its citizens were killed in Friday’s gun assault in the popular resort of Port el Kantaoui, which was claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.

The World Travel & Tourism Council has condemned the attack, with president and ceo David Scowsill saying it was a brutal attack on a beautiful destination.

“I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families of all the victims of this brutal attack. Our thoughts are with them at this terrible time,” he said.

“It is it with deep regret that the world again has its eyes on Tunisia.”

This attack strikes at the heart of the country’s tourism industry, only three months after the callous attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March 2015.

“Tunisia is a beautiful destination. Travel & Tourism plays a pivotal role in the country’s economy, generating over 15% of the country’s GDP at around US$7.4 billion, and supporting nearly 14% of total employment in 2014.”

“Tourism is a force for good in the world with its great economic and social benefits. It is important that travel organisations and travellers continue to support Tunisia, whilst the government takes appropriate measures on security.”

Tunisia’s health ministry said it had identified the bodies of 17 people from Britain, Germany, Ireland, Belgium and Portugal, as it tried to establish the identities of victims mown down in their beachwear.

The assailant pulled a gun hidden inside an umbrella and opened fire on tourists on the sand and by a pool, in the deadliest attack in Tunisia’s recent history.

Prime Minister David Cameron warned that Britain needed to prepare “for the fact that many of those killed in the attack were British”.

“These were innocent holidaymakers, relaxing and enjoying time with their friends and families.”

Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said from next month armed guards would be deployed all along the coast and inside hotels.

But Tunisians who rely on tourism fear it will come too late.

Flowers at the scene of the shooting in Sousse, Tunisia, Saturday, June 27, 2015. The morning after a lone gunman killed tens of people at a beach resort in Tunisia, busloads of tourists are heading to the nearby Enfidha-Hammamet airport hoping to return to their home countries. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

“If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t set foot in Tunisia right now,” said Imed Triki, a shopkeeper in Sousse.

“After this catastrophe, it’s normal that they leave the country so quickly. Do they come here on holiday or to die?”

Tunisian Secretary of State for Security Rafik Chelly told Mosaique FM the gunman was a student previously unknown to the authorities.

“He entered by the beach, dressed like someone who was going to swim, and he had a beach umbrella with his gun in it,” Chelly said.

Witnesses described scenes of panic after the shooting at the hotel on the outskirts of Sousse, about 140km south of Tunis.

One young Tunisian told police that the gunman fired only at tourists.

“The terrorist told us: ‘Stay away, I didn’t come for you’,” he said.

“He did not fire at us – he fired at the tourists.”

The gunman was later shot dead by police.

Prime Minister Essid said a raft of new anti-terrorism measures would take effect from July 1, including the deployment of reserve troops to reinforce security at “sensitive sites… and places that could be targets of terrorist attacks”.

In Tunis, the tourism ministry confirmed plans to deploy 1000 armed officers from July 1 to reinforce the tourism police, who will now also carry guns for the first time.

Armed officers will be deployed “inside and outside hotels”, on beaches and at tourist and archaeological sites, the ministry said.

The government will also close 80 mosques suspected of fanning extremism, he added, echoing his predecessor’s calls to shut down “illegal” mosques.

But tour operators scrambled to fly thousands of fearful holidaymakers home.

Overnight, 13 airliners took off from Enfidha airport north of Sousse.

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