At least 37 people, including a number of British, Belgian and German tourists, are dead after at least one man armed with a Kalashnikov rifle attacked two hotels in the resort city of Sousse, around 140 kilometers from the capital Tunis. At least 36 others were injured in the assault, which took place at 11.30 on Friday morning.
One of the hotels attacked was the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, which belongs to the Spanish chain RIU and is located in the popular tourist resort of Port Kantaoui. Sources from the hotel chain said the attack took place on the beach of the hotel complex, rather than inside.
The attack took place at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, which belongs to Spanish chain RIU
One assailant was killed during the assault, said police. It is not yet known whether he was acting alone or had accomplices, but other arrests have been made. A second man was detained several hours later close to an entrance to a highway, while a third person was arrested in the middle of a crowd that was trying to lynch him.
Rafik Chelly, secretary of state at Tunisia’s Interior Ministry, has said the dead gunman was a student from Kairouan, a region in north central Tunisia whose capital is a sacred place for Islam.
According to one hotel worker who was interviewed by Reuters, it was “one attacker” who opened fire on tourists and Tunisians on the beach of the hotel.
“It was just one attacker. He was a young guy dressed in shorts like he was a tourist himself.”
An Irish woman, Elizabeth O'Brien, who was staying at a nearby hotel with her two sons, said there was panic on the beach when gunfire erupted.
“I honestly thought it was fireworks and then when I saw people running... I thought, my God, it is shooting,” she told Irish radio station RTÉ. “The waiters and the security on the beach started to say ‘Run, run, run!’”
Sources from the RIU-owned hotel told Spanish news agency EFE on Friday afternoon that the victims were mostly Belgian, British, German and Tunisian. No Spaniards were staying at the establishment, it added. RIU also sent its condolences to the victims and their families.
This is the second terrorist attack committed in Tunisia in the last three months after the assault on the Bardo museum in Tunis, the capital of the country, carried out on March 18. That attack was carried out by two individuals trained in Libya and linked to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.
This is the second terrorist attack committed in Tunisia in the last three months after the assault on the Bardo museum in Tunis on March 18
Based in the Balearic Islands, the RIU chain began as a small hotel business in Palma de Mallorca. The family-owned company is one of the most globally renowned Spanish hotel chains and works through partnerships with other companies.
A RIU spokesman said that the company has no official information from Tunisian authorities about the incident and they are checking to verify what exactly occurred at the hotel on Friday.
The company operates 105 hotels around the world, including seven in Tunis.
Spain goes on level four alert
Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz on Friday announced that Spain was raising its terror alert to level four following the attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait.
The minister made the announcement after an emergency meeting of the Antiterrorist Pact between members of the ruling Popular Party (PP) and the main opposition Socialists, who signed the deal in February of this year.
Level four means increased surveillance over infrastructure and other critical spots. All security, surveillance and information units have been activated.
Fernández Díaz said the decision was based on three factors: the proximity of the countries where the attacks took place, information gathered by Spain's intelligence services, and the upcoming anniversary of ISIS' self-proclaimed caliphate next Monday.
Level four means "high risk" and entails maximum security reinforcement. The last time Spain was at level four was in January, following the attacks on Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.