Tour operators have begun pulling out European tourists from Tunisia a day after a gunman killed 39 people at a resort hotel in the city of Sousse. Most of the dead were foreigners, including 15 British nationals.
Thousands of shocked tourists flocked to Tunisia's airports after a deadly beachside gun assault on Friday. A gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire on lounging tourists at the Imperial Marhaba hotel, killing 39 people. While most of the victims were Britons, a German, a Belgian and an Irish citizen were also killed in the attack.
The Sunni militant group "Islamic State" (IS) has claimed the responsibility for the attack in Sousse, which is around 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of the capital Tunis.
"Our brother, the soldier of the Caliphate, Abu Yihya al-Kairouni, reached his target the Imperial hotel despite the security measures," said a statement on an IS-linked Twitter account. It continued that al-Kairouni had attacked what they called a brothel and killed 40 "infidels."
Tourists leave country
Sousse's tourism commissioner Saloua Kadri told media that 3,000 foreign tourists - around 2,200 British and nearly 600 Belgians - had left the town on Saturday. Dozens of tourists were waiting to take flights out of the country at the nearby Ennfida airport.
Tour operaters Thomson and First Choice, which are owned by German travel group TUI, said they had 6,400 holidaymakers across Tunisia at the time of the attack. Around 1,000 people have already been sent back to their countries, the companies said, adding that they had cancelled all holiday packages to Tunisia for the next few weeks.
TUI has arranged several flights for tourists wishing to return home.
"We don't want to stay any longer. We just want to see our family, parents … so leaving as soon as possible," Hannah Russell, a British tourist, told the Reuters news agency.
Sarah Meason, another British tourist from Manchester, said she didn't feel safe in Tunisia. "Constantly hearing sirens and helicopters is not really helping your nerves," she said.
Tunisia's tourism ministry called Friday's attack at one of the country's most popular resorts for Europeans a "catastrophe."
The North African country's economy relies heavily on tourism.
Crackdown on extremists
The Tunisian government has vowed to clamp down on Islamist extremists and increase security along the coast and hotels. According to Prime Minister Habib Essid, the government will be shutting 80 mosques that are outside of state control on the grounds that they may incite violence.
Tunis also plans to crack down on financing for certain associations as a countermeasure against another attack.
In March, IS attacked Tunis' National Bardo Museum, killing 21 foreign tourists and a policeman.
shs/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP)