Tunisia to boost security, arm tourist police after attack

28th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

Tunisia said Sunday it would arm tourism police and deploy hundreds of reinforcements as authorities moved to boost security after a jihadist gunned down 38 people at a seaside resort.

Police on horseback and quad bikes patrolled the beach at Port El Kantaoui north of Sousse where the worst jihadist attack in Tunisia's history took place on Friday.

Tourists gathered around bouquets of flowers laid in the sand, one asking simply: "Why (did) they die?"

In Tunis, the tourism ministry confirmed plans to deploy 1,000 armed officers from July 1 to reinforce the tourism police, who will now also carry guns for the first time.

The move came as leaders of the North African country scrambled to act after the brutal attack that saw 15 Britons among those killed and dealt a heavy blow to the vital tourism industry.

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

Authorities had previously announced plans to boost security in tourist areas, and also to close 80 mosques accused of inciting extremism.

Friday's attack saw a Tunisian student disguised as a tourist pull out a Kalashnikov assault rifle hidden inside a beach umbrella and open fire on holidaymakers at the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui south of the capital Tunis.

Malek, a 16-year-old witness, said he saw the gunman unleash the killing spree.

- Gunman's 'big smile' -

"I saw the guy put his parasol down in the sand, squatting just like anyone would to set it up. But suddenly he grabbed a Kalashnikov," he said.

"Everyone stood up to see what was happening, and then we saw him shoot at the tourists, with a big smile on his face."

Witnesses say the attack lasted more than 40 minutes, but interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui has refused to comment on allegations that police were slow to react.

Aroui told AFP the police arrived "seven to eight minutes" after the shooting began, adding that he is awaiting the results of an inquiry.

"One person alone committed the attack but others helped him for sure," said Aroui, announcing that the attacker's mobile phone had been found.

The gunman's family has been interrogated by police.

Tunisian authorities have so far identified 18 of those killed as 14 Britons, a German, a Belgian, a woman from Ireland and another from Portugal.

But Britain has said at least 15 of its citizens were confirmed dead and warned that the toll is likely to rise.

Ireland also said on Sunday three of its citizens were killed.

The British toll was the country's worst loss of life in a jihadist attack since the 2005 London bombings.

In updated travel advice, the Foreign Office in London urged those who remained in Tunisia to be vigilant and said there was a risk of further incidents.

On Sunday evening, several British policemen arrived bearing cases of equipment at the morgue in the Charles Nicolle hospital in Tunis, where the victims' bodies are being stored, an AFP journalist said.

- 'No room for error' -

Tunisia has not yet published the full list of the victims' names and nationalities.

"We are taking the time we need. There must be zero errors. We have taken the dental and palm prints. Families have arrived from abroad to identify the bodies," said Naoufel Somrani, head of the health ministry's emergency services.

The attack was swiftly claimed by the Islamic State group, the extremist organisation that has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq and launched attacks around the world.

It came just three months after another IS-claimed attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis killed 21 tourists and a policeman.

With its turquoise waters, stunning archaeological sites and relatively low prices, Tunisia has long attracted European tourists.

But the industry -- which accounts for seven percent of GDP and almost 400,000 jobs -- has been reeling since the 2011 revolution that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was followed by a rise in jihadist violence.

Shocked tourists have been leaving for home since Friday's attack, but some holidaymakers said they had chosen to stay.

"It was nobody's fault. We are scared... But this kind of thing can happen anywhere," French tourist Safia told AFP as she walked along the beach in the resort area.

In the past four years, dozens of police and soldiers have been killed in Tunisia in clashes and ambushes attributed to jihadists -- mainly in the western Chaambi Mountains.

Disillusionment and social exclusion have fuelled radicalism among young Tunisians, with the country exporting some 3,000 jihadist fighters to Iraq, Syria and neighbouring Libya.

© 2015 AFP

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