Tunisia weighs new security steps after attack

Tunisia weighs new security steps after attack

One Tunisian witness said the gunman had only targeted tourists, telling locals: “Stay away, I didn’t come for you.”



By (AFP)

Published: Mon 29 Jun 2015, 8:45 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:07 PM

Tunisian army soldiers guard the street near the attacked Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse. — AP

Tunisian army soldiers guard the street near the attacked Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse. — AP

Port el Kantaoui — Tunisia weighed new security measures on Sunday as it scrambled to secure its vital tourism sector after 38 people were killed at a seaside resort in the worst attack in its history.

The country’s National Security Council was to meet later on Sunday after authorities vowed to ramp up security following Friday’s attack targeting tourists, which saw at least 15 Britons killed.

After an emergency meeting late on Saturday, Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli promised new steps to ensure the “protection of Tunisia’s tourist sites and beaches by armed police units”.

“We can no longer refrain from taking difficult measures,” Gharsalli said in a statement carried by Mosaique FM radio, adding that at least 1,000 members of security forces would be involved in securing tourist sites.

Authorities had earlier announced plans to deploy armed security officers along the coast and inside hotels from July 1 and to shut down 80 mosques accused of inciting extremism.

The attack saw a Tunisian student disguised as a tourist pull out a Kalashnikov rifle hidden in a parasol and open fire on beachgoers at the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel in Port El Kantaoui, near Sousse south of the capital Tunis.

Witnesses have described scenes of sheer terror, with the gunman mowing down screaming tourists as many ran for their lives. One Tunisian witness said the gunman had only targeted tourists, telling locals: “Stay away, I didn’t come for you.”

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.

Health officials have said identification of the bodies is taking time as many of the victims were not carrying ID at the beach.

The attack was swiftly claimed by the Daesh militant group.

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

But the tourism industry — which accounts for seven per cent of Tunisia’s 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 militant attacks.

Authorities had announced a nearly 26 per cent drop in the number of foreign visitors in April compared with the same month last year.

Shops were open early on Sunday in Port El Kantaoui and about a dozen tourists could be seen lying on the beach near the site of the attack.

Many in Tunisia have questioned the ease with which the gunman entered the resort and how he was able to kill so many before being shot dead.

“What happened is the sign of security failures,” said Rached Ghannouchi, who heads the country’s second-biggest political party, the Ennahda.

Analysts say that despite promises from the authorities, it will take a large-scale reform of the country’s forces to ensure better security.

Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Centre said the police must face “badly needed professional improvements and organisational reforms” for Tunisia to have “an effective, pro-active and successful strategy against terrorism”.

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


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