Friends and neighbours of the gunman who killed 38 tourists on a Tunisian beach in cold blood on Friday have described him as “good, good, good!” and speculated that he was driven to murder by poverty. 15 of the victims are British citizens; one family has lost three relatives in the attack.
The Islamic militant has been named as Seifeddine Rezgui, a student at Kairouan University in northern Tunisia. He is said to have been laughing as he stepped out on to the beach, Kalashnikov in hand, to gun down dozens of innocent holiday-makers.
The Guardian has reported neighbour and family friend, Monia Riahi, 50, as saying “He was good, good good! I’ve known him since he was small. He was never in trouble with anyone ever. Maybe he was brainwashed or something.”
Fellow neighbour Ammar Fazai, 64 speculated “I think maybe, just maybe, it was poverty that did it. There’s that old saying: ‘If poverty was a man, I would kill him.” The Guardian has helpfully explained that Rezgui’s father is a day labourer who earns less than £10 a day.
Rezgui’s murderous actions were part of a series of attacks co-ordinated by Islamic State to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A tweet from the group claimed responsibility for the attack, and referencing Rezgui by his nom de guerre ‘Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani’, a reference to the town in which he was studying.
Amongst his victims was 19 year old university student Joel Richards, his uncle Adrian Evans, 49, and his grandfather, 79 year old Patrick Evans. Joel’s brother, 16 year old Owen Richards was found nearby comforting a woman who had been wounded. Owen suffered a grazed shoulder from the bullet which killed his uncle.
When Owen was later found by a medic he was “shaking and crying’ and said simply: “I have to call my mum,” The Mail on Sunday has reported. Yesterday Suzanne Richards, Owen’s mother flew out to Tunisia to bring him home.
Also amongst the victims were 24 year old Carly Lovett, a beautician and freelance photographer who had been on holiday with her fiancee Liam Moore, who is known to have survived the attack. One of her friends has said “We always had really great times together. She came from a really close family, so I think it will hit them all very hard.”
Meanwhile the deaths of Sue Davey and Scott Chalkley, a couple in their 40s were announced on social media by their sons, Conor and Ross.
Another 39 people including 25 Britons were injured in the attack, including Matthew James who used himself as a human shield to protect his fiancee. He is recovering in hospital after having an operation to remove three bullets.
Announcing the 15 dead, Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood said that number “may well rise, as several more have been seriously injured in this horrific attack”. Ellwood, who lost his own brother in the 2002 Bali bombing added that this was “the most significant terrorist attack on the British people” since the London 7/7 bombings in 2005.
Prime Minister David Cameron earlier warned that Britain needed to prepare “for the fact that many of those killed in the attack were British”. He condemned those responsible as “evil”, saying the victims were “innocent holidaymakers relaxing and enjoying time with their friends and families… they did not pose a threat to anybody”.
Yesterday he chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee; Home Secretary Theresa May is due to chair another today. After speaking to the leaders of Tunisia, France, Kuwait and Germany, Cameron tweeted: “Together, we’ll make sure terrorists do not win.”
As many as 10,000 of the 20,000 Britons believed to be holidaying in Tunisia at the time of the attack have returned home in a mass exodus from the north African country. Tour operators Thompson and First Choice have dispatched 10 planes to repatriate their customers free of charge, and hope to bring 2,500 home by this evening. They have cancelled upcoming holidays to the country.
Jet2, which has more than 1,000 customers on holiday in Tunisia, said it had repatriated 205 people and would send two further planes to collect more over the weekend, AFP has reported.
Yesterday Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid pledged to ramp up security amidst fears that Tunisia’s tourism industry will be decimated. “We are at war against terrorism which represents a serious danger to national unity during this delicate period that the nation is going through,” he told a media conference in the capital Tunis.
This is the second attack on tourists in the country this year; in March gunmen killed 20 tourists, including one Briton, in a deadly attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis. They also kept hostages for three hours.