‘It was pure evil’

Tu­nisian gun­man washed him­self af­ter mas­sacre, wit­nesses say.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY HUGH NAY­LOR hugh.nay­lor@wash­post.com

sousse, tu­nisia — In the fi­nal mo­ments of the worst ter­ror­ist at­tack in Tu­nisia’s history, wit­nesses re­called, the as­sailant ca­su­ally strolled to the ocean at a pop­u­lar re­sort to wash his hands and face.

Mo­ments ear­lier, they said, the man later iden­ti­fied by author­i­ties as Seifed­dine Rezgui had been me­thod­i­cally stalk­ing mostly Euro­pean tourists with an as­sault ri­fle and grenades. In a half-hour rampage Fri­day that shocked the world in its bru­tal­ity, Rezgui killed 39 peo­ple and wounded dozens as they sun­bathed on a pris­tine beach in Sousse.

But as he fin­ished cleans­ing him­self, Rezgui turned to­ward a group of nearby Tu­nisian ho­tel work­ers who were fran­ti­cally drag­ging away wounded beach­go­ers.

“He fired his Kalash­nikov into the air and yelled, ‘Run! Get away! I’m not here to kill you!’ ” said Ibrahim Ghrib, 23, a life­guard who wit­nessed the en­counter.

To Ghrib, the mes­sage was clear. The Western tourists who used to pack this tiny Mediter­ranean coun­try’s placid beach re­sorts are no longer welcome, at least not by the Is­lamist ex­trem­ists who seem to hold in­creas­ing sway here.

Fri­day’s at­tack at the Im­pe­rial Marhaba ho­tel grounds was car­ried out with a ruth­less­ness as­so­ci­ated with the Is­lamic State, which in­creas­ingly ap­pears to threaten the pol­i­tics of mod­er­a­tion that have steered Tu­nisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, on a demo­cratic path since its revo­lu­tion.

Shortly af­ter the killings Fri­day, the ex­trem­ist group that con­trols swaths of Syria and Iraq as­serted re­spon­si­bil­ity for the as­sault, iden­ti­fy­ing Rezgui as Abu Yahya al-Qi­rawani, a nom de guerre. Not long af­ter the at­tack, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers fa­tally shot the 24-year-old Tu­nisian na­tional.

On Satur­day, Tu­nisia’s prime min­is­ter, Habib Es­sid, an­nounced sev­eral se­cu­rity mea­sures in re­sponse to the at­tack, in­clud­ing the clo­sure of dozens of mosques linked to ex­trem­ists.

But that did not calm the nerves of tourists in Sousse, about 90 miles south of Tu­nis, the cap­i­tal, who scram­bled Satur­day to leave for their home coun­tries. Spe­cial flights to Europe from a nearby air­port were or­ga­nized for va­ca­tion­ers.

To­bias Ellwood, Bri­tain’s min­is­ter for the Mid­dle East, said Satur­day that at least 15 Bri­tish na­tion­als were killed in the at­tack. Oth­ers slain were from Ger­many, Ire­land, Bel­gium and Por­tu­gal, as well as Tu­nisia.

Wit­nesses to the mas­sacre, which started just be­fore noon Fri­day, de­scribed scenes of chaos and car­nage.

Ghrib, the life­guard, said he was on duty at the nearby Palm Ma­rina ho­tel beach when he first saw Rezgui walk­ing along the wa­ter sev­eral yards away hold­ing a red um­brella and wear­ing a black shirt and black swim shorts. He said Rezgui then dropped the um­brella, which he had used to con­ceal an as­sault ri­fle, and opened fire on dozens of peo­ple loung­ing on beach chairs.

“I im­me­di­ately started shout­ing at peo­ple on the beach to run to the ho­tel,” Ghrib re­called.

Tourists be­gan run­ning for safety, many of them cov­ered in blood as they streamed into the pa­tio res­tau­rant at the Palm Ma­rina ho­tel. Their screams star­tled Mandy Mor­ris, 52, a Bri­ton who ini­tially mis­took the crackle of gun­fire for fire­works.

Shortly be­fore­hand, she said, she had no­ticed a small boat rac­ing to shore and away from recre­ation boats in the wa­ter. A few mo­ments later, she said, she be­gan hear­ing au­to­matic weapon fire.

“I’m still sus­pi­cious of who was on that boat. It just came straight to shore,” said Mor­ris, who said she fled for cover in the Palm Ma­rina with her hus­band.

Alexan­der Ni­co­lai, 48, re­called see­ing two peo­ple leave the boat on the beach next to him. The shoot­ing started as the men jumped off the boat, which he de­scribed as a rub­ber dingy. But he said he could not de­ter­mine whether the men on the craft were as­sailants.

It is still un­clear whether Rezgui had ac­com­plices.

On Fri­day evening, Mo­hammed Ali Aroui, an In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman, told Tu­nisian tele­vi­sion that law en­force­ment of­fi­cials were pur­su­ing another sus­pect, although he de­clined to pro­vide de­tails.

Con­tacted by tele­phone, an of­fi­cial at the In­te­rior Min­istry said Satur­day that one sus­pect had been ar­rested. Cit­ing a lack of au­tho­riza­tion, the em­ployee, who de­clined to give de­tails, spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

Diane Dar­ling­ton, 21, said she and a friend thought they heard gun­fire from three dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions near the site of the at­tack. They fled to their fourth-floor room at the Palm Ma­rina, where they watched events on the beach.

“We’re cer­tain there were three of them,” said Dar­ling­ton, a Bri­ton from York.

Shams Ed­dine Bow­maf­feh, who works at the Palm Ma­rina pool area, re­mem­bered see­ing only one as­sailant, Rezgui. Af­ter help­ing tourists take cover in the ho­tel, Bow­maf­feh, 20, re­called run­ning to­ward the beach at the Im­pe­rial Marhaba to check on the wounded.

By then, he said, Rezgui had left the beach and en­tered the Im­pe­rial Marhaba, at­tack­ing the ho­tel pool area with at least one grenade. Rezgui then en­tered the ho­tel’s re­cep­tion area, open­ing fire with the as­sault ri­fle, which he reloaded mul­ti­ple times dur­ing the rampage, wit­nesses said.

About 30 min­utes into the in­ci­dent, Bow­maf­feh said, Rezgui walked back to the Im­pe­ri­alMarhaba’s beach area. At that mo­ment, Bow­maf­feh was help­ing life­guard Ghrib and about a dozen other ho­tel work­ers re­trieve wounded va­ca­tion­ers from the beach.

They all paused in dis­be­lief as the killer washed his body be­fore fir­ing his weapon into the air and warn­ing them to leave, Bow­maf­feh said. Then Rezgui walked north­ward along the beach, and some­where af­ter­ward was killed by Tu­nisian po­lice.

“He washed him­self calmly, like he hadn’t just killed dozens of in­no­cent peo­ple,” said Bow­maf­feh. “It was pure evil.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.