الخميس , مايو 20 2021

Tunisia Britons fly home after alert

Police officers patrol the beach near the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse, Tunisia

Security has been stepped up in the wake of the attack in Sousse

Thousands of British holidaymakers are to be flown home from Tunisia following warnings that another terrorist attack in the country is “highly likely”.

Thirty Britons were killed in an attack in Sousse last month – and the Foreign Office has now urged all Britons to leave the country.

Extra security measures there did not provide “adequate protection”, it said.

The Association of British Travel Agents said its members aimed to bring customers home in the next 48 hours.

Between 2,500 and 3,000 British package holidaymakers are believed to be in Tunisia, as well as about 300 independent travellers.

Security ‘chaos’

A gunman killed 38 holidaymakers in the 26 June beach attack, prompting Tunisia to declare a state of emergency.

The Tunisian government also increased security in tourist areas, and announced plans for a wall along the border with Libya, to counter the terror threat.

Tunisia believes gunman Seifeddine Rezgui trained with the Ansar al-Sharia group in the neighbouring country, though the Islamic State group has claimed the attack.

Eight people have been arrested on suspicion of collaborating with Rezgui, who was killed after the shooting spree.

The UK government said there was no “specific or imminent” new threat but intelligence had led officials to the view that a further terrorist attack was “highly likely”.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the Tunisian investigation into the Sousse attack – and an attack in March on the Bardo Museum near Tunis which left 22 dead, including one Briton – was continuing and Tunisian authorities had “made clear they want to track down further individuals who they suspect may have links” to the attacks.

He said a security assessment in tourist areas found more work was needed “to effectively protect tourists from the terrorist threat”.

But BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the gunman’s associates were believed to still be at large in Tunisia and, he said, were quite likely to be looking for targets.

He added that at the time of the attack some witnesses, including a former policeman, were convinced they saw a second attacker.

He said the UK’s decision was taken “reluctantly” but the intelligence of a threat was “overwhelming”.

BBC North Africa correspondent Rana Jawad, in the capital, Tunis, said there seemed to be “chaos” between the various security structures in Tunisia, she said, adding many high level officials had been sacked since the attack.

“It’s very clear that there is a problem in that sector and a lack of trust between them,” she said.

Our correspondent added there was “disbelief and devastation” over the UK-issued alert among hotel staff, who now fear they could lose their jobs as the tourism industry falters.

‘What terrorists want’

Nabil Ammar, the Tunisian ambassador to the UK, said the updated travel advice was “what the terrorists want”.

“By damaging the tourism, by having foreigners leaving the country, they damage the whole sector and put so many people out of work and on the streets,” he said.

Tour operators Thomson and First Choice had already cancelled all flights to the country for the rest of the summer season.

The two firms have also decided to repatriate all their British staff currently working in Tunisia “within the next 24 hours”.

Thomas Cook, which has cancelled all future bookings to Tunisia until 31 October, said it was putting on an extra flight on Friday to bring customers back to the UK.


Thirty of the victims of the 26 June attack were British

The British victims of the Sousse attack

A Thomas Cook spokesman said customers would be flown back to the UK “as soon as we can using third-party carriers and on our 10 scheduled flights over the weekend”.

Meanwhile, Monarch Airlines said it was arranging to repatriate all customers in resorts back to the UK “as soon as possible” in response to the fresh travel advice.

It comes as the funeral of two victims of the attack – Jim and Anne McQuire, from Cumbernauld – will be held in their home town later.

Background and analysis

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said people due to travel to Tunisia should contact the company they had booked through.

Travelling to Tunisia now would be likely to invalidate travel insurance policies, though most policies would provide cover for those already in the country, Abta added.

“Those with holidays booked within the next 48 hours to Tunisia are advised to contact your travel company to discuss available options,” it said.

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