A gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire at a Tunisian hotel on Friday with a rifle he had hidden in an umbrella, killing 39 people including Britons, Germans and Belgians as they lounged at the beach in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
After pulling out the weapon, the assailant strolled through the hotel grounds, opening fire left and right at the pool and beach, reloading his weapon several times and tossing an explosive, witnesses said.
Terrified tourists ran for cover after the gunfire and an explosion erupted at the Imperial Marhaba in Sousse, 140 km (90 miles) south of the capital Tunis, before police shot the gunman dead, witnesses and security officials said.
The bodies of several tourists lay crumbled where they fell in the sand, covered with yellow towels and blankets among the plastic white sunbeds. Blood smeared stone steps leading from the hotel main area."This was always a safe place but today was horror," said an Irish tourist who gave only his first name, Anthony. "He started on the beach and went to the lobby, killing in cold blood."
"Someone was firing a gun, and then I looked at my wife and she got up and ran, and as I turned a bullet just hit me in my arm, and I just ran to the sea," a man told BBC television.
The attack took place during the holy Muslim month of Ramzan, on a day in which a decapitated body daubed with Arabic writing was found in France, a suicide bomber killed two dozen people at a mosque in Kuwait and at least 145 civilians were reported killed by Islamic State militants in northern Syria.In a statement on social media, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Tunisian attack. It had urged its followers to step up assaults during Ramadan.
Since its 2011 uprising to oust autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has been praised for its peaceful democratic transition bringing free elections and a new constitution seen as a model for the region.
But the country has also struggled with the rise of Islamist movements as ultra-conservative preachers took advantage of the upheaval and young democracy to take over mosques and spread their hardline message.
Several thousand Tunisian jihadists have left the country to fight in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring Libya, where some have set up jihadist training camps and promised to return to attack their homeland.