PORT EL KANTAOUI, Tunisia, Jun 27 – The Islamic State group on Saturday claimed responsibility for a massacre in a Tunisian seaside resort that killed nearly 40 people, most of them British tourists, in the worst attack in the country’s recent history.
Dozens more were wounded when a man pulled a gun from inside a beach umbrella and opened fire on crowds of tourists at the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in the popular Mediterranean resort of Port el Kantaoui.
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said 38 people had been killed, revising down an earlier toll of 39 given by the health ministry. An official there told AFP the original figure had included the dead gunman.
Most of those killed were from Britain — implying this could be the biggest loss of British life in a militant attack since the July 2005 bombings in London when 52 died — while Germans, Belgians, French were also among the dead, the premier said.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said earlier five Britons had been killed and he expected the toll to rise, while his Irish counterpart confirmed an Irish woman was among the dead.
The attack, the second against tourists in Tunisia this year, comes on the same day that 27 people were killed at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait and a suspected Islamist attacked a factory in France.
IS claimed both the bombing and the attack in Tunisia, which came at the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and just days before the first anniversary of the group declaring its territory in Iraq and Syria a “caliphate”.
IS said the gunman, who they identified as Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani, was a “solider of the caliphate” who had targeted enemies of the jihadist group and “dens (of…) fornication, vice and apostasy”.
Most of those killed were “subjects of states that make up the crusader alliance fighting the state of the caliphate”, the group said in a statement released on Twitter, referring to the group of countries that have been bombarding its positions in the Middle East.
The attack, along with the killings in France and Kuwait, sparked a chorus of international condemnation with the White House vowing to “fight the scourge of terrorism” and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying those responsible for the “appalling” attacks “must be swiftly brought to justice”.
Tunisian Secretary of State for Security Rafik Chelly told Mosaique FM the gunman was a Tunisian student previously unknown to the authorities.
“He entered by the beach, dressed like someone who was going to swim, and he had a beach umbrella with his gun in it. Then when he came to the beach he used his weapon,” Chelly said.