The UK government is urging its citizens in Tunisia to return home saying, “A further terrorist attack is highly likely,” and that the Tunisian authorities are unable to provide “adequate protection.”
Travel firms are seeking to fly the estimated 2,500 to 3,000 UK tourists in Tunisia out of the country in the next few days, reports BBC.
Of the 38 tourists killed by a terrorist in Tunisia’s coastal resort city of Sousse on June 26, the majority (30) are Britons.
“Since the attack in Sousse the intelligence and threat picture has developed considerably, leading us to the view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely,” said British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, according to a July 9 press release from the Foreign Office.
“We do not have any information suggesting a specific or imminent threat,” BBC quotes Hammond as also saying.
Nevertheless, in its travel to Tunisia advisory, the FCO specifically warns that “further terrorist attacks are highly likely, including in tourist resorts, and by individuals unknown to the authorities whose actions may be inspired by terrorist groups via social media… there is a high threat from terrorism in Tunisia.”
The FCO urges British tourists in Tunisia to be “especially vigilant.”
On July 8, the Tunisian Prime Minister publicly acknowledged that further terrorists attacks are likely, said the FCO.
Critics of the FCO’s travel advise for British tourists in Tunisia say it plays right into the hands of terrorists, handing them a victory.
The FCO on July 9 changed its travel to Tunisia recommendations “to advise against all but essential travel for the time being, and recommends that British tourists return to the United Kingdom,” states the press release from the Foreign Office.
“The FCO is working closely with tour operators to ensure British nationals tourists are able to return to the UK,” it adds.
According to the Foreign Office, the additional security measures put in place by Tunisian authorities since the June attack fail to provide “adequate protection” for British tourists.
“While we are working with the Tunisian authorities to further strengthen those measures, we judge that more work is needed to effectively protect tourists from the terrorist threat,” said Hammond.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to keep the situation under close review and to work with the Tunisians to further understand the threat and to strengthen their security response to it,” he added.
Furthermore, the FCO’s travel advisory points out that the the Tunisian authorities “have also acknowledged the limitations in their ability to counter the current terrorist threat.”
British tourists in Tunisia are being advised to contact their tour operator or airline to plan their return. Those who are traveling independent are being urged to return on a commercial flight.
The Tunisian ambassador to the UK, Nabil Ammar, denounced the Foreign Office’s travel advice, saying it was playing into the hands of “what the terrorist want” and adding that it would also damage Tunisia’s tourist industry, BBC reports.
The Independent’s travel editor, Simon Calder, echoed Mr. Ammar’s sentiment, telling BBC that the FCO’s “very tough decision” to change its travel advise “says to the people behind the attack at Sousse, here you are, you’ve got a victory.
“You’ve effectively wiped out Tunisia’s tourist industry – or at least a large part of it – for the rest of the summer. That is going to cause economic mayhem,” he added.
Tunisians were “devastated” by the Foreign Office’s advise to British tourists, said Naveena Kotoor, a freelance journalist in the Tunisian capital Tunis, BBC reports.
“The Tunisian investigation into those behind the Sousse attack and that on the Bardo museum earlier this year is ongoing and the Tunisians have made clear they want to track down further individuals who they suspect may have links to this attack,” said Hammond.
Following the June 26 attack, which took place in the popular resort north of Sousse known as Port El Kantaoui, the Tunisian government declared a state of emergency.
Some travel companies are repatriating their British employees, BBC reports.
Companies Thomson and First Choice reportedly said it will return home staff it has working in Tunisia within the next 24 hours “as a precautionary measure.”