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Tribute paid to Tunisia beach victims as Britain urges fightback

Monday, June 29, 2015 - 20:01
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European ministers on Monday laid flowers at the Tunisian beach where a jihadist gunned down 38 people as Britain's David Cameron, whose country was hardest hit, called for fightback against extremism.

[PORT EL KANTAOUI, Tunisia] European ministers on Monday laid flowers at the Tunisian beach where a jihadist gunned down 38 people as Britain's David Cameron, whose country was hardest hit, called for fightback against extremism.

British Home Secretary Theresa May and the German and French interior ministers Thomas de Maiziere and Bernard Cazeneuve joined Tunisian officials in laying a wreath in the sand near the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel where Friday's attack took place.

The massacre, claimed by the Islamic State group, was the worst jihadist attack in Tunisia's history and the deadliest for Britain since the 2005 London bombings.

Tunisian authorities have so far formally identified 20 of those killed including 16 from Britain, though the BBC has reported that the number of British dead will rise to at least 30.

The other four victims have been identified as from Germany, Portugal, Ireland and Belgium.

Mr Cameron vowed to mount a full investigation and called for "a response at home and abroad" to violent Islamic fundamentalism.

"We must be stronger at standing up for our values - of peace, democracy, tolerance, freedom," he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

"We must be more intolerant of intolerance - rejecting anyone whose views condone the Islamist extremist narrative and create the conditions for it to flourish." He told BBC radio that Britain had dispatched a Boeing C17 military transport plane to Tunisia to evacuate wounded tourists.

Shocking new amateur footage from the attack emerged on social media, showing the gunman walking calmly along the seashore and bloodied bodies strewn in the sand.

Intermittent gunfire can be heard in the 11-minute amateur video, shot by a Tunisian man using his mobile phone who can be heard asking: "Why do you kill people? Why?" The attacker, identified as 23-year-old student Seifeddine Rezgui, pulled a Kalashnikov rifle from inside a beach umbrella and opened fire on holidaymakers at the resort before being shot dead.

Flowers have been laid along the beach near the resort in Port El Kantaoui, south of the capital Tunis. On Monday handwritten messages could be seen placed next to the flowers reading "We are sorry" and "We are Muslims, not terrorists".

The European interior ministers were due to hold talks on security cooperation.

The attack - the second on tourists in Tunisia after the National Bardo Museum killings left 22 dead in March - prompted authorities to boost security at attractions and along its 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) of coastline.

Officials have said they will deploy 1,000 armed officers from July 1 to reinforce the tourism police, who will also carry guns for the first time.

Authorities have also announced plans to close 80 mosques accused of inciting extremism.

The shooting wounded 39 people, six of whom were still in "serious condition" on Sunday, the hotel's Spanish management said.

Witnesses say the attack lasted 30 to 40 minutes and some have questioned why security forces did not intervene sooner.

The interior ministry has refused to comment on such accusations, other than to say that police arrived "seven to eight minutes" after the attack began.

Hundreds of tourists were flown home from Tunisia in the wake of the attack but some have chosen to stay, among them Britons John and Lesley Edwards in Port El Kantaoui.

"It's a lovely place and people are great. We didn't want to leave, we feel pretty safe with the police and the army. There is more police now," John said.

"We feel sorry for the staff. We stayed mainly for them. Even if our family calls us every day to tell us to come back."

Tunisia has struggled to deal with a rise in extremism since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

While it has been praised for holding democratic elections, critics say Tunisia has yet to deal with the poverty and social exclusion that has fuelled radicalism among some of its youth.

The recent attacks are damaging to the country's crucial tourism industry, which accounts for seven percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product and almost 400,000 jobs.

AFP