39 killed in IS shooting: Tunisia beach resort turns horror house

  • AFP, Tunis
  • Updated: Jun 27, 2015 13:45 IST

Three blood-soaked bodies lay amid a jumble of flip-flops and beach towels by the edge of the hotel pool in the Tunisian resort where an attacker gunned down 39 people on Friday.

At least 36 more were wounded in the carnage at the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui, a popular destination for foreign tourists on the outskirts of Sousse, south of the capital.

Most of those killed in a massacre at a Tunisian beach resort claimed by the Islamic State group were British, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said.

"The majority are British," he told a news conference. "After come the Germans, then the Belgians and then other nationalities," he said, adding that there were also French among the victims.

Read:IS claims responsibility for Tunisia, Kuwait terror attacks

Officials said a Tunisian student posing as a beachgoer pulled an assault rifle from under a beach umbrella and mowed down holidaymakers on lounge chairs soaking up the summer sun.

The beach is now deserted, cordoned off by police.

After the sudden outburst of violence, the bodies of 15 people cut down in the hail of bullets lay nearby, before they were taken to a hospital.

Some were covered with black plastic bags or bloodied beach towels, as others in swimwear lay still.

Three bodies were by the hotel's indoor pool next to a window shattered by assault rifle rounds.

"I was looking after my group when I heard shots and then a burst of machinegun fire from the beach," said hotel event leader Omar Brik.

The 22-year-old employee said he saw the gunman, who authorities say was killed, walk towards the pool and "fire at the tourists".

"An older woman and her husband pleaded with him to spare them, to no avail. He shot them down without pity, in cold blood," said Omar, who could see from the second floor as the massacre unfolded.

Witnesses described scenes of panic as people fled, leaving behind sunglasses and other personal belongings.

Friday's mass shooting in Sousse is the North African country's worst attack in recent history.


Tourists comfort each other after the mass shooting in the resort town of Sousse, a popular tourist destination 140km south of the Tunisian capital. (AFP Photo)

'Only tourists were targeted'

One young man who witnessed the tragedy 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."

Visibly shocked holidaymakers gathered in the reception area of the hotel which was also crowded with policemen, gendarmes and members of the anti-terrorist unit.

British tourist James Rouse said he was by the poolside when he heard machinegun fire.

He said he grabbed his daughter and took his mother by the arm and pulled them outside towards the exit.

Hours after the killings, many people in Tunisia were asking the question: how did the gunman enter the hotel so easily?

"What can we do with someone who holds a Kalashnikov and who opens fire on people? He was very much at ease," said Nidhal Branji, the head of the Spanish RIU group in Tunisia.

Secretary of state for security Rafik Chelly told Mosaique FM the gunman was a Tunisian student 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.

"Then when he came to the beach he used his weapon," Chelly said.

'Firecrackers going off'

Gary Pine, a product manager from Bristol in southwest England, said he heard an estimated 20 to 30 shots before tourists ran to their hotels for cover.

"Over to our left, about 100 yards (metres) or so away, we saw what we thought was firecrackers going off," he told Britain's Sky News television by telephone.

"But you could see quite quickly the panic that was starting to ensue from the next resort along from us.
"People were exiting the beach pretty quick.

"Only when you could start hearing bullets whizzing around your ear do you realise it was something a lot more serious than firecrackers.

"There was a mass exodus off the beach.

"My son was in the sea at the time and of course my wife and myself were shouting for him to get out the sea quick and as we ran up the beach he said: 'I just saw someone get shot.'

Susan Ricketts, who is on holiday in Sousse with her sister, told Sky News: "We were in our hotel and then we heard some gunfire but we didn't know what it was.

"Everybody just started running in and screaming. The whole place just cleared."

She said there were "people crying and going hysterical."


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