Monday 26 September 2016

At least eight British tourists among 39 killed in Tunisia beach massacre

Published 27/06/2015 | 16:45

Tourists enjoying the beach near a four-star hotel in the resort town of Sousse AFP PHOTO / BECHIR BETTAIEBBECHIR BETTAIEB/AFP/Getty Images
Tourists enjoying the beach near a four-star hotel in the resort town of Sousse AFP PHOTO / BECHIR BETTAIEBBECHIR BETTAIEB/AFP/Getty Images

At least eight Britons are among the 39 holidaymakers killed in the Tunisian beach massacre, the country's ministry of health has confirmed.

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A Kalashnikov-wielding student targeted Western tourists as he waged a campaign of terror in the popular resort of Sousse.

So far, Tunisian authorities have confirmed the nationalities of 10 of the dead, with a Belgian and a German identified alongside the British victims.

Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that the public should be "prepared for the fact that many of those killed were British".

Scotland Yard today said police travelled to Tunisia to help investigate the killings and officers are also interviewing tourists returning at British airports.

Read more: 'It's so senseless, stupid and tragic' - Irish mother locked herself in bathroom with family when 'gun battle' began

Holiday firm Tui, which runs the Thomson and First Choice brands, said that a number of those who died were its customers.

Gunman Seifeddine Rezgui was said to have laughed and joked as he targeted British and French tourists and sprayed them with gunfire. He was shot dead by police.

The 23-year-old Tunisian aviation student disguised himself as a tourist and began firing at holidaymakers on a beach using a gun he had hidden in a beach umbrella.

Tunisia's prime minister Habib Essid said an initial investigation found that he was not previously known to the authorities.

Extra consular staff along with police and experts from the Red Cross will arrive in the North African country today to help the victims and their families.

Mr Cameron, who today chaired a second meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee, said his "thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of those killed or injured".

Read more: Irish mum among dozens gunned down in beach massacre

Speaking in Downing Street, he said: "These savage terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France are a brutal and tragic reminder of the threat faced around the world from these evil terrorists."

He added: "We are working with the Tunisian authorities to identify the final number of British casualties but I'm afraid that the British public need to be prepared for the fact that many of those killed were British."

Mr Cameron insisted "we will defeat" Islamic extremists waging terror around the world.

Speaking outside the Tui UK building near Gatwick Airport today, Peter Long, joint CEO of Tui Group, said he was "deeply, deeply shocked".

"And our whole organisation is reeling with pain to see the suffering that has taken place in Tunisia."

He added that the company's directors from locations across the UK confirmed that so far it has repatriated 1,000 customers and that 5,400 still remained in the area, with everything being done to help those who wanted to return to get on flights.

However, the company was unable to confirm how many of its customers had been killed or injured in the tragedy.

Travel agents' association Abta said an estimated 20,000 people were currently on holiday with its members in Tunisia but there were also others who had travelled independently.

Read more: Majority of those killed at Tunisia beach resort British - Tunisia prime minister

Islamic State has claimed it is behind the attacks and has reportedly identified the gunman by his jihadi pseudonym Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani,

The worst such attack in Tunisia's history came on the same day a man was found decapitated after an attack by suspected Islamic extremists on a French factory and a Shiite mosque in Kuwait was bombed, killing at least 25 people.

Although the attacks do not appear to be directly linked, they come after the so-called Islamic State called for their followers "to make Ramadan a month of calamities for the non-believers".

"Once again, cowardly and traitorous hands have struck Tunisia, targeting its security and that of its children and visitors," Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi said.

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

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 victim already identified is Irish mother-of-two Lorna Carty, from Robinstown, Co Meath.

Family friends said she had taken her husband on holiday to help him recover from heart surgery, and she was believed to have gone to the beach by herself when the gunman went on the rampage.

She was a nurse in a GP surgery in Navan, aged in her 50s, and had a son and daughter. Her husband Declan, a dairy farmer, was said to be uninjured but "absolutely distraught".

Read more: Day of bloodshed leaves more than 60 dead and stokes fears of jihadists

Harriet Harman, acting Labour leader, said the party's "deepest sympathy and thoughts" go out to the families and friends of the victims.

She said: "These shocking events, as well as the attacks in France and Kuwait, remind us of the constant threat the world faces from terrorism, and the need for constant vigilance.

"It is disappointing that the impact of these crimes will also be felt by Tunisia's economy, not least its growing and important tourism industry.

"We will back the Government as it works to help the families affected and counter these extremist ideologies which have so brutally taken the lives of the innocent."

Assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, national policing lead for counter-terrorism, said: "We've deployed a large number of officers out to Tunisia, both in terms of our own evidence gathering - forensic experts, helping the Tunisia authorities - and also we've got experts in family liaison assisting."

Mr Rowley said the UK's terror threat level remained at "severe", the second highest level.

It was "fairly clear" the location of the Tunisian attack was chosen because of the number of Westerners present in the area, he added.

A member of Norfolk Police staff and his wife were injured in the attacks.

The force said Tony Callaghan, who works at North Walsham, and his wife needed hospital treatment but their injuries are not life-threatening.

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