Dozens killed after terror attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France
Witnesses have described the horror and chaos of the gun attack on sunbathing holidaymakers in that left at least 39 people dead and 36 injured.
and an Irishwoman died in the attack. Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, said the British death toll was likely to rise.
The assault in Tunisia took place within hours of two other suspected Islamist attacks in France and Kuwait. One man was detained near Lyon, south-eastern , after the severed head of his former employer was hung from the gates of a gas factory. French officials said the man had been known to intelligence services.
In Kuwait City, a suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque, killing 27 worshippers. Responsibility for the bombing was later claimed by the group. There is no evidence that the three attacks were coordinated or connected.
The shootings in Tunisia took place at about midday in the resort of Sousse, 93 miles (150km) south of Tunis on the country’s east coast. Tourists fled from the beach and barricaded themselves in their hotel rooms after a gunman opened fire on the crowded beach before moving into the pool area of the five-star Imperial Marhaba hotel while firing at tourists, witnesses said.
One suspected gunman was shot dead at the scene, and reports suggested another suspect was apprehended.
Of the attack in Sousse, Mohamed Ali Aroui, a spokesman for the Tunisian interior ministry, said: “The perpetrator of the operation was killed, but … there could have been more of them. Whether there were other elements with him, we can’t confirm or deny.”
An official from the country’s health ministry said Britons, Germans, Belgians and Tunisians were among the dead. “There are still some people we have not identified yet, but we are working on it,” the official said. A foreign ministry spokesman said that at least 11 Britons, three Belgians and a German were among the wounded.
The , where the shootings took place, said the majority of the 565 guests at the hotel were from the UK and central European countries.
One couple from Kent told the Guardian they had been relaxing on their sunbeds when they heard what they believed at first to be fireworks, and saw a man running along the sand with what looked like a machine gun.
“He was shouting something, I don’t know what he was shouting,” said Glenn Whitehead, a scaffolder from Swanley, Kent. He shouted at his wife Anita to run, as bullets flew around them. A person lying next to them fell dead, he said.
The couple heard bullets close to their head, and Mrs Whitehead tripped in the sand as others ran screaming beside them. Staff from the hotel’s spa beckoned them inside, where about 20 other tourists and staff were waiting.
The couple said they waited for perhaps 20 minutes before they were led outside by staff, to find bodies lying by the hotel pool and in the foyer, amid pools of blood.
“I looked around the beach and all I could see were dead people covered in towels,” said Mr Whitehead. There was also a body on the sunbed next to the ones they had been using. “Where we were lying were a German mother and daughter. When I got back one of them was covered over, dead.”
“There was a lot of people who couldn’t get off their sunbeds,” his wife said. “They were elderly.”
Witnesses told the Guardian that a British man had been killed while sunbathing on the beach as his wife packed their bags in their room ahead of their planned departure on Friday.
Another British woman described how her fiancé was shot three times as he lay next to her on a sunbed, using his own body to shield her from the bullets.
Sarah Wilson, from Pontypridd in south , said her partner Matthew James was shot as the gunman opened fire, throwing himself in front of her before urging her to run for her life. He survived the assault but suffered wounds to his shoulder, chest and hip.
“We were just on the sunbeds, messing around and having a nice time when we heard these sounds. The shooting had started and there was a man with a gun opening fire all around. It is hard to remember just exactly what was going on,” she said. “I only saw the one man in dark clothing but people were being shot.
“Matthew put himself in front of me then he was hit, he moved and the man shot him again. Again he tried to move and he was shot again. He was shouting and blood was pouring out all over. I was screaming and it was chaos as more shots were coming out.
“We were down on the floor next to the sunbeds to shelter but the shots just kept on coming. He just told me to go, to look after our kids and that he loved me.”
She fled to the hotel and hid in a cupboard until it was safe to emerge, hunting for two hours on the beach until she learned James had been taken to hospital, where he had life-saving surgery.
“I’ve been to the hospital intensive care and I’m just staying here on a chair now. His pelvis was shattered by the bullet and he also had a heart attack. But he is alive. I’m just praying we can get out of here as soon as we can.
“There are bodies everywhere, some covered in blankets and some not. You can’t imagine how bad it is.”
Ray Butler, a member of the Irish Dáil, said he had spoken by telephone to the husband of a man from County Meath whose wife was shot dead on the beach while he was in the hotel inside. “He is absolutely distraught,” Butler said. Charles Flanagan, the Irish minister of foreign affairs, confirmed that an Irish citizen had been killed.
David Cameron broke off from the European council meeting in Brussels to offer to François Hollande, the French president, and to Tunisia. “This is a threat that faces all of us … these events can happen anywhere,” he said.
Cameron pledged that Britain would do all it could to help, and insisted that the perpetrators were acting not in the name of Islam but “in the name of a twisted and perverted ideology that we must combat with everything we have”.
Speaking after he chaired a meeting of the UK government’s Cobra crisis committee in London, , the foreign secretary, said: “The situation on the ground is still somewhat confused and we can’t be sure exactly how many [victims there are] but because of the nature of the composition of the tourist population in this part of Tunisia we have to assume that a high proportion of those killed and injured will have been British.
“We have had reports from families of those involved in the incident that allow us to confirm that at least five Britons have been killed in this incident, but I should warn that we must expect that there will be more reports of fatalities as we establish the detail on the ground.”
The British Foreign Office said it was urgently working with travel firms in Tunisia “to gather and confirm information on those affected by this attack”, and had despatched British embassy staff to the site of the atrocity.
Speaking from the scene several hours after the attack, Tunisia’s president, Béji Caïd Essebsi, called for a global strategy to tackle terrorism and insisted that his country could not be left to face jihadis alone.
The attack – the worst in Tunisia’s modern history – is a devastating blow to a country whose economy relies heavily on western tourism, and comes only three months after , one of the country’s leading tourist attractions. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
Sousse was also , when a man was spotted approaching a hotel in a suicide vest and chased on to the empty beach, where he blew himself up.
The country’s tourist economy had taken a major blow in the aftermath of the 2011 “Jasmine” revolution but with new elections in late 2014, was returning to stability. Tourist receipts in 2015 are already down by 15% on 2014 following the Bardo attack.
By late afternoon, the corpses, most of them in black body bags, had been gathered by a bar and pavilion. The Guardian was shown several bodies of elderly tourists in shorts and bathing suits still lying where they had been killed. Others had been evacuated by the emergency services, using sunbeds as stretchers.
Dazed tourists, clearly in shock, ordered beers from the terrace bar still dressed in their swimsuits. One man from had ordered lobster and was drinking a beer while cleaners mopped up blood around his feet. He said he had seen someone killed, but did not want to be named.
Gary Pine, a product manager from Bristol who was staying at the El Mouradi Palm Marina hotel, said he heard an estimated 20 to 30 shots before tourists ran to their hotels for cover. “Over to our left, about 100 yards [90 metres] or so away, we saw what we thought was firecrackers going off,” he told Sky News. “But you could see quite quickly the panic that was starting to ensue from the next resort along from us.
“Only when you could start hearing bullets whizzing around your ear do you realise it was something a lot more serious than firecrackers.
“My son was in the sea at the time and of course my wife and myself were shouting for him to get out of the sea quick and as we ran up the beach, he said: ‘I just saw someone get shot.’ As we exited the beach there was some kind of explosion from the complex next door. So we knew that a situation was developing, if not had ended.”
Elizabeth O’Brien, an Irish woman who was holidaying with her two sons, said she had heard what she initially thought was gunfire, before realising it was actually gunfire.
“So I just ran to the sea to my children and grabbed our things and as I was running towards the hotel, the waiters and the security on the beach started saying ‘run, run, run!’ and we just ran to our room.”