Thursday 8 December 2016

'Police ignored the bodies - they were just left baking in the sun'

The slow response of police after the shooting began has been questioned

Yasmine Ryan in Sousse

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

Security was visible and tight at the Tunisian beach resort yesterday where 24 hours previously chaos and terror had reigned.

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On the beach where the Seifeddine Rezgui launched his murderous attack on sunbathing tourists, there was now only a scattering of people protected by mounted police riding along the beach and security boats patrolling offshore all along the coast.

The Hotel Imperial Marhaba, while not actually closing down, was emptying rapidly, with armed security guards patrolling the perimeter. Its director, Mohammed Becheur, said tour operators had urged everyone to leave. "We may have zero clients today but we will keep our staff," he said, adding that the 370-room hotel was three-quarters full before the attack.

Some of the questions being asked yesterday by locals and tourists alike included whether there should have been more security present when the attack occurred, and whether Tunisian police were slow to respond when the shooting began and lasted for up to 30 minutes.

Keith Hawkes, a former British soldier who came to Sousse to celebrate his 70th birthday and instead found himself in the middle of combat, questioned the reaction of the police. After the attack, Mr Hawkes was the one who covered the bodies.

He said Tunisian police who secured the scene did not seem too interested in forensic evidence, reacting indifferently to the bullet cases he pointed out to them. They also appeared uninterested in the bodies, he said.

"They ignored the bodies completely. I went and covered them with towels," Mr Hawkes said. "They were just left baking in the sun."

He said it took about 45 minutes for one seriously injured man to be evacuated.

The massacre is the worst terrorist attack in Tunisia's history, and comes on the heels of the March 18 attack on the Bardo Museum that killed more than 20 people.

The attacker, who was killed by security forces, was Seifeddine Rezgui, a 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.

Tunisian police continued to question Rezgui's parents, his sister and other close friends. At his village of Jaafour, villagers and relatives reacted with horror at the news of his attack. Some said they had seen him only days before Friday's attack and there was nothing in his behaviour to indicate he had been radicalised. They did say he had shaved his beard off and speculated that this was to allow him to blend in at the resort.

Sunday Independent

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