A shooter disguised as a tourist opened fire at a Tunisian hotel on Friday with a weapon he had covered up in an umbrella, killing 37 people, including British, German and Belgian tourists, as they lounged at the beach and pool in a famous resort town.
Frightened tourists ran for cover after the gunfire and an explosion emitted at the Imperial Marhaba in Sousse resort town, 140 km (90 miles) south of the capital Tunis, before police shot the shooter dead, witnesses and security authorities said.
“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.”
The assault occurred amid the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, 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.
Islamic State guaranteed the Kuwait attack and had encouraged its followers to venture up attacks amid Ramadan yet it was not known whether the Tunisian attacker was inspired by the group.
Rafik Chelli, a senior interior ministry official, said the shooter slaughtered was a student, unknown to authorities and not on any watchlist of potential jihadists.
Subsequent to pulling out a weapon hidden inside an umbrella, the attacker walked around the hotel grounds, opening fire at the pool and beach, reloading his weapon a few times and tossing an explosive, witnesses said.
A security source said another bomb was found on his body, which lay with a Kalashnikov assault rifle where he was shot.
Local radio said police caught a second shooter, yet authorities did not quickly confirm the arrest or his role in the attack.
“It was just one attacker,” said a hotel worker at the site. “He was a young guy dressed in shorts like he was a tourist himself.”
“RUN, RUN, RUN!”
It was the worst attack in Tunisia’s modern history and the second major massacre this year following the Islamist militant assault on Tunis Bardo museum when gunmen killed 21 foreign visitors.
A health ministry statement said British, German and Belgian nationals were among the 37 dead. The health minister told French radio 36 others were wounded in the shooting.
Ireland’s foreign ministry also confirmed at least one Irish citizen had been killed.
Tunisia, which has been hailed as a model of democratic transition since its 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ uprising, is one of the most secular countries in the Arab world. Its beach resorts and nightclubs on the Mediterranean are popular with foreigners.
No one immediately claimed the attack. But Islamist jihadists have attacked North African tourist sites before, seeing them as legitimate targets because of their open Western lifestyles and tolerance of alcohol.
Irishwoman Elizabeth O’Brien, who was staying at a neighboring hotel with her two sons, said there was panic on the beach when gunfire erupted.
“I honestly thought it was fireworks and then when I saw people running… I thought, my God, it is shooting,” she told Irish radio station RTE. “The waiters and the security on the beach started to say ‘Run, run, run!'”
In Sousse, many tourists were already packing their suitcases into busses and checking out of hotels to leave after the attack.