Tourists flee­ing Tu­nisia af­ter at­tack

The coun­try’s lead­ers launch new se­cu­rity mea­sures af­ter a mas­sacre at a re­sort.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Laura King and Amro Has­san laura.king@latimes.com Times staff writer King re­ported from Cairo and spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Has­san from Ber­lin.

CAIRO — As hun­dreds of fright­ened tourists f led Tu­nisia on Satur­day, the North African coun­try’s lead­ers an­nounced strin­gent new se­cu­rity mea­sures in re­sponse to a mas­sacre at a pop­u­lar Mediter­ranean re­sort that left at least 38 peo­ple dead, nearly two-thirds of them Bri­tish visi­tors.

The mass shoot­ing on Fri­day in the coastal city of Sousse was the worst ter­ror­ist strike in the mod­ern history of Tu­nisia, which had been con­sid­ered an is­land of rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity in an in­creas­ingly volatile re­gion.

Within hours of the at­tack, diplo­mats, air­lines and tour op­er­a­tors stepped in to pro­vide bus trans­porta­tion from the ho­tel and neigh­bor­ing re­sorts to the near­est air­port for f lights out. More than a dozen evac­u­a­tion f lights took off overnight and at least 10 more were sched­uled Satur­day, Agence France-Presse re­ported. It said at least 2,500 for­eign visi­tors were ex­pected to be repa­tri­ated by day’s end.

Else­where in the re­gion, the Per­sian Gulf emi­rate of Kuwait de­clared a na­tional day of mourn­ing for vic­tims of its own tragedy, the bomb­ing on Fri­day of a crowded Shi­ite mosque. The death toll in that strike, the first of its kind in Kuwait, rose to 27, with more than 200 in­jured. Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the strike.

The mil­i­tant group also said it was re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack in Tu­nisia. Is­lamic State had also as­serted that it car­ried out a deadly at­tack in March on a land­mark mu­seum in the cap­i­tal, Tu­nis, though that claim was called into ques­tion by Tu­nisian author­i­ties, who blamed an Al Qaeda off­shoot in­stead.

The mu­seum at­tack left more than 20 peo­ple dead, and most of those vic­tims, too, were Euro­pean tourists.

Tu­nisian author­i­ties em­pha­sized that the mo­tives and meth­ods in Fri­day’s as­sault re­mained un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The one known as­sailant, shot dead by se­cu­rity forces, was iden­ti­fied as a stu­dent at a univer­sity in Kairouan, an in­land city known for piety.

The gun­man dis­guised him­self as a beach­goer, in shorts and a T-shirt, and used a beach um­brella to con­ceal his Kalash­nikov as­sault rif le. Ter­ri­fied swim­mers and sun­bathers scat­tered as he raked the ho­tel beach and pool area with gun­fire.

In a tri­umphal­ist state­ment is­sued hours af­ter the at­tack, Is­lamic State as­serted online that it had tar­geted “in­fi­dels” at the sea­side re­sort, adding that the vic­tims were “mostly from Cru­sader coun­tries that are fight­ing … the Caliphate,” a ref­er­ence to the group’s self­de­clared state in parts of Iraq and Syria.

Tu­nisian of­fi­cials an­nounced Satur­day that the 38 dead in the Sousse shoot­ings in­cluded 24 Bri­tons — a toll that Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron had warned his public to ex­pect as the mag­ni­tude of the as­sault be­came clear. The tar­geted ho­tel was pop­u­lar with pack­age tours orig­i­nat­ing in the United King­dom.

The oth­ers killed in­cluded seven Tu­nisians, three Bel­gians, a Rus­sian, a Ukrainian and a Ger­man, said Kamel Jen­doubi, a Tu­nisian gov­ern­ment min­is­ter. One vic­tim’s na­tion­al­ity had not been de­ter­mined, he said, though Ir­ish author­i­ties had pre­vi­ously said one Ir­ish woman was killed.

Height­ened safety mea­sures un­veiled at an overnight news con­fer­ence by Prime Min­is­ter Habib Es­sid in­cluded the mo­bi­liza­tion of army re­servists for de­ploy­ment to tourist-heavy ar­eas such as beach re­sorts and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites. Es­sid also said about 80 mosques op­er­at­ing out­side of­fi­cial con­trols and ac­cused of “spread­ing venom” would be shut down.

The prime min­is­ter also hinted at the pos­si­bil­ity of a broader crack­down on po­lit­i­cal par­ties and other en­ti­ties act­ing “out­side the con­sti­tu­tion,” a move that could prompt a back­lash from Tu­nisia’s siz­able Is­lamist bloc.

Is­lamists won power at the polls af­ter the coun­try’s 2010-11 upris­ing, which set off a wave of pro-democ­racy re­volts across the re­gion. But af­ter a dis­as­trous run at rul­ing Tu­nisia, the Is­lamists ceded power and agreed to work in co­op­er­a­tion with a sec­u­lar-minded ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Still reel­ing from the March mu­seum at­tack, Tu­nisia now faces a heavy new blow to its tourist trade, a main­stay of the fal­ter­ing econ­omy.

Eco­nomic dis­con­tent was a driv­ing force be­hind the upris­ing against long­time dic­ta­tor Zine el Abidine ben Ali that erupted nearly five years ago, and chronic job­less­ness among young men is viewed as height­en­ing the lure of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism.

Tu­nisia has been the source of thou­sands of Is­lamic State re­cruits for the bat­tle­field in Syria, and author­i­ties fear their re­turn home could have a deeply desta­bi­liz­ing ef­fect.

Chaos in neigh­bor­ing Libya has also rat­tled Tu­nisia; the mu­seum at­tack­ers were re­ported to have re­ceived train­ing there.

Jeff J Mitchell Getty Im­ages

AT THE BEACH near the Im­pe­rial Marhaba ho­tel, a woman brings f low­ers to a me­mo­rial. A gun­man killed at least 38 peo­ple, nearly two-thirds from Bri­tain.

Darko Vo­ji­novic As­so­ci­ated Press

TU­NISIAN sol­diers keep watch near the site of the at­tack, for which Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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