Thousands of holidaymakers are heading home and thousands more are rushing to cancel holidays after a lone gunman allied to the Islamic State (ISIS) killed dozens of sunbathers on the beach at a resort in Tunisia.
The gunman, who wore shorts and hid a semi-automatic assault rifle in a beach umbrella, killed at least 38 tourists and wounded many more at the Imperial Hotel and Hotel Club Riu Bellevue in Sousse on the Tunisian coast.
About 30 Britons, as well as Belgians, Germans and an Irishwoman, are among those killed. Some victims are still being identified as they had taken no ID to the beach – as you don’t.
Tour operators reacted to the slaughter by cancelling holidays and flying holidaymakers home.
Although no Australians were hurt in the latest attack (few Aussies holiday in Tunisia), the threat is that ISIS, seeing the effectiveness of such methods, will be tempted to try similar tactics elsewhere. Tourism is seen as a convenient soft target.
Within hours of the Tunisian massacre, Thomson and First Choice (both owned by the TUI Group) sent 10 planes to Tunisia to repatriate 1000 British tourists. TUI has cancelled all holidays to Tunisia this week and its remaining 5400 customers will be home by today, the company said.
British mass-market airlines like easyJet, Jet2 and Thomas Cook put on extra flights and let people planning to holiday in Tunisia cancel or change without penalty. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), said many of its members were offering customers the option to amend or cancel their bookings.
A small but determined group of German and British holidaymakers have elected to stay on at the resort, vowing not to let terror ruin their holidays. But they are very much the exception.
It’s the second mass slaughter of tourists in Tunisia this year. In March, Islamist gunmen killed a group of foreign visitors as they arrived at the Bardo Museum in Tunis on a shore excursion from a cruise ship.
Tourism, a key part of Tunisia’s economy, had already plunged 25% after the March museum attack. As holidaymakers avoid places they perceive as unsafe, Tunisia can expect to take a major economic hit.
The latest gunman, who police shot dead, was allied to Islamic State (ISIS), as were those behind the Bardo Museum massacre.
Most of those killed in the beach slaughter were British and the atrocity is the most significant attack on British civilians since four Islamist suicide bombers blew themselves up in the London transport system on 7 July 2005, killing 52 people and injuring over 700.
The latest attack in Tunisia coincided with a suicide attack on a Kuwait mosque which killed 27 people (also claimed by ISIS) and an attack on a factory in France by a man carrying an Islamic State flag who beheaded his boss.
Local fallout from the massacre included:
- Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued advisory updates on Tunisia, Kuwait and France at the weekend. Australians are advised to exercise a high degree of caution in Tunisia and Kuwait, and to continue to exercise normal safety precautious in France.
- Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said Australians might not think they’re at war with Islamic State, but ISIS was at war with Australia. “As far as the Daesh death cult [ISIS] is concerned, it’s coming after us”, Abbott told reporters.
- Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said terrorist attacks could occur anywhere and it was important to defeat the “evil bastards” of ISIS at the source.
Written by Peter Needham