German, British and Belgian tourists among 39 dead in Tunisian beach massacre

Updated | At least 28 people, mostly foreign nationals, have been killed on a beach in close proximity to two tourist resorts in the Tunisian coastal city of Sousse, the interior ministry has confirmed.

Tunisian officials have said that one gunman was responsible for the attack and has been shot and killed. It was initially believed that there was a second gunman being sought by authorities but Tunisian security official Rafik Chelli told Associated Press that there was only one gunman.

The health ministry confirmed that the death toll currently stands at 39 people, while six people have been injured.

An interior ministry official told Reuters that a number of tourists were killed by the attackers but the specific number remains unclear. However, the interior ministry confirmed that Tunisians, Britons, Germans and Belgians were among those killed.

Local reports claimed that the gunman pulled a Kalashnikov on tourists on Sousse beach between two popular tourist hotels before opening fire on sunbathers. He then proceeded to enter the Imperial Marhaba hotel where he continued to shoot dead his victims.

The attack came during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan just a week after Isis called on its supporters to heighten attacks during the period. However, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Gary Pine, a British tourist on holiday with his wife and son who was on the beach when the shooting began, spoke to Newsweek from Sousse, saying that he initially thought the gunshots were firecrackers before he and his family scrambled back to the hotel.

"We tend to stay to the left of these 200 or so loungers," he said. "So where we were, we were at the far extent, and that's where, 150 yards away, the gunshots started breaking out."

"I initially thought they were firecrackers. I stupidly ran up the beach about 10 yards with my wife, shouted at my son who was in the sea to join us, went back for my bag, and only then did I realise that gunshots were whizzing through the air and buzzing around us," he adds.

The family ran back to the hotel with other holiday-goers but revealed that hours after the attack there was still no military or police presence at the hotel protecting the tourists from further attacks.

"There is a queue of people forming outside the hotel now of people looking to get away," he continued. "We have seen the sad sight of ambulances whizzing past and there have been helicopters circling. However, there are still no police or military presence in the hotel or outside the hotel."

The city of Sousse sits on Tunisia's eastern coastline, on the Mediterranean sea, and is a popular tourist destination. The attacks is likely to further damage Tunisia's tourism industry following the attack on the Bardo museum in the capital, Tunis, in March earlier this year which killed 23 people, including 20 foreign tourists.

Tarek Kahlaoui, former adviser to Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and director of the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies, says that he expects already falling tourist numbers to drop even further after this attack.

"It's already very bad, the visitor numbers before the attack were 24% less than 2014," he says. With this attack, I expect that the numbers will be lower than expected."

Tourism is a crucial industry for the Tunisian economy, employing more than 400,000 people, but the effects of the gun attack in Tunis, and this latest attack, are likely to be felt all along the country's Mediterranean coastline despite a defiant online solidarity campaign entitled 'I will go to Tunisia' by social media users earlier this year pledging to ignore the heightened terror threat and travel to the country.

In figures released by the UK-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) earlier this year, it was revealed that up to 3,000 Tunisians had travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of radical extremist groups, the highest of any country in the world. The Tunisian government has frequently expressed concerns about returning jihadis and the threat they pose to national security.

Tunisia served as the spark for the Arab Spring revolts four years ago when Tunisians took to the country's streets to demand the overthrow of autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

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