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Tunisia reels from beach massacre

June 28, 2015

The Tunisian seaside town of Sousse is still reeling from an attack that killed almost 40 people on Friday. "Islamic State" has claimed responsibility, in which a lone gunman deliberately targeted tourists.

A tourist places flowers at the beachside of the Imperiale Marhabada hotel, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia, June 26, 2015.
Image: Reuters/Z. Souissi

Scores of police officers patrolled Tunisia's streets on Sunday, with the nation's interior minister announcing they would "deploy 1,000 armed police to protect hotels and tourists" in the wake of the deadly attack. Earlier, the government said it would crack down on mosques that were inciting hatred, with 80 to be permanently closed. Tunisia's National Security Council is expected to meet later in the day.

The shooter, identified by extremist group "Islamic State" (IS) as Abu Yihya al-Kairouni, launched his assault on visitors at the Imperial Marhaba hotel in Port El Kantaoui on Friday, with most of the dead being British citizens. German, Irish and Belgian nationals were also killed, in what is the worst terror incident in the North African country's modern history.

Pictures show the shooter calmly walking along the beach, with an assault rifle in his hand. He was also armed with several grenades. Tunisian authorities say the young man was not on any terror watch lists, and may have been radicalized over the past few months. He was later shot dead by police.

Witnesses say the gunman told locals to "stay away, I haven't come for you," deliberately targeting foreign visitors. With some holidaymakers still unaccounted for, officials have warned the death toll may rise. Also complicating this is the fact that many visitors did not have identification on them at the time.

Late on Saturday, Britain's Foreign Office released a warning that Islamist militants may unleash further attacks on tourist resorts. Already more than 3,000 tourists had fled the country within a day of the shootings. Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he would visit the scene on Monday, to "express our solidarity with the Tunisian people," adding that there was no cause for concern over the security situation in Germany.

Tunisia is widely considered one of the most secular countries in the Arab world, attracting many tourists. This also makes it an appealing target for jihadi terror groups, angry over its tolerance of alcohol and Western lifestyles. It's the second major attack on Tunisia this year, after an assault on the Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis in March.

The country is still struggling to cope with the consequences of a 2011 revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, as well as a rise in extremism and jihadi attacks. Dozens of police and soldiers have been killed in clashes with rebel fighters over the past few years. Tourism officials say there has been a 26 percent drop in the number of overseas visitors in April compared with the same month in 2014.

an/rc (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)