37 Killed in Attack on Tunisian Beach Resort

Gunman shot dead after opening fire on guests at beachfront hotel in coastal city of Sousse; most of the victims are foreign tourists, according to Interior Ministry.

AFP

AP - A young man unfurled an umbrella and pulled out a Kalashnikov, opening fire on sunbathers in an attack that killed 37 people at a Tunisian beach resort — one of three deadly attacks from Europe to the Middle East on Friday that followed a call to violence by Islamic State extremists.

Another 36 people were wounded in Friday's attack at the Tunisian resort of Sousse, some 150 kilomoters from the country's capital, and two or three of them are in critical condition, according to Tunisia's Health Ministry.

The killings in the Tunisian resort of Sousse happened at about the same time as a bombing at a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait and an attack on a U.S.-owned factory in France that included a beheading. It was unclear if the violence was linked but it came days after the ISIS militants urged their followers "to make Ramadan a month of calamities for the nonbelievers." In all, at least 63 people were killed.

The attack in Tunisia, the country's worst ever, comes just months after the March 18 assault on the national museum in Tunis that killed 22 people, again mostly tourists, and has called into question the newly elected government's ability to protect the country.

Screenshot from footage showing injured people being treated on the beach after Friday's attack in Sousse. (TunisiaTV1 via AP)

Authorities initially thought there was more than one gunman in Friday's attack, but top security official Rafik Chelli told The Associated Press later that it was just one person, a young student not previously known to authorities. The rampage at the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel ended when he was shot to death by police.

"He was certainly involved with certain extremists," said Chelli, the secretary of state of the Interior Ministry.

The attack followed two others Friday in France and in Kuwait. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City that killed at least 16 people, while a man with ties to Islamic radicals rammed a car into a gas factory in southeastern France, where a severed head was found on a post at the entrance.

In a video released Tuesday, the Islamic State called on its supporters to increase attacks during Ramadan and "be keen on waging invasion in this eminent month and commit martyrdom."

Scenes of carnage

The carnage in Tunisia began on the beach, where tourists described hearing what sounded like fireworks and then running for their lives when they realized it was gunfire. Video footage of the aftermath showed medics using beach chairs as stretchers to carry away people in swimsuits.
"He had a parasol in his hand. He went down to put it in the sand and then he took out his Kalashnikov and began shooting wildly," Chelli said.

The gunman then entered the pool area of the Imperial Marhaba hotel before moving into the building, killing people as he went.

Blood stains the ground at the Tunisian beach resort where Friday's deadly attack took place. (AFP)

British tourist Gary Pine told AP he was on the beach with his wife around noon when heard what sounded like firecrackers going off very quickly. They shouted for their son to get out of the water, grabbed their bag and ran for the hotel. Their son told them he saw someone shot on the beach.

Back at the hotel, the situation was "sheer panic. There were a lot of concerned people, a few people in tears with panic and a few people — older guests — they'd turned their ankles or there was a few little minor injuries and nicks and scrapes," Pine said.

Later Friday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said at least five Britons had been killed in the attack, and that the British death toll could rise.

Elizabeth O'Brien, an Irish tourist on holiday with her two sons, told Irish Radio she was on the beach when the shooting began.

"I thought, 'Oh my God. It sounds like gunfire,' so I just ran to the sea to my children and grabbed our things" before fleeing to their hotel room, she said.

Since overthrowing its secular dictator in 2011, Tunisia has been plagued by terror attacks — though only recently have they targeted the vital tourism sector. Tourism is a major part of the Tunisian economy, especially in coastal resorts like Sousse, and it suffered in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution.

"Tunisia's economy is heavily dependent on tourism and that revenue is now about to all but disappear, leaving Tunisia in dire straits at a critical junction in its political transition," North Africa analyst Geoff Porter said.