TUNIS, Tunisia — A young man disguised as a tourist pulled a Kalashnikov rifle from a beach umbrella and sprayed gunfire at European sunbathers at a Tunisian resort, killing at least 37 people — one of three deadly attacks Friday from Europe to North Africa to the Middle East that followed a call to violence by Islamic State extremists.
The shootings in the Tunisian resort of Sousse happened at about the same time as a bombing at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait and an attack on a U.S.-owned factory in France that included a beheading. It was unclear if the violence was linked but it came days after the IS militants urged their followers “to make Ramadan a month of calamities for the nonbelievers.” In all, the assailants killed at least 65 people.
The attack in Tunisia, the country’s worst ever, comes just months after the March 18 massacre at the national Bardo museum in Tunis that killed 22 people, again mostly tourists, and has called into question the newly elected government’s ability to protect the country.
“Once again, cowardly and traitorous hands have struck Tunisia, targeting its security and that of its children and visitors,” President Beji Caid Essebsi told reporters at the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel, near the beach rampage site.
Essebsi promised “painful but necessary” measures, adding: “No country is safe from terrorism, and we need a global strategy of all democratic countries.”
Rafik Chelli, the secretary of state of the Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that the attack was carried out by a young student not previously known to authorities. At least 36 people were reported wounded in the shooting spree, which ended when the gunman was shot to death by police.
The rampage followed two other terror attacks Friday in France and in Kuwait City. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an attack at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City that killed at least 16 people, while a man with ties to Islamic radicals rammed a car into a gas factory in southeastern France, where a severed head was also found on a post at the entrance.
British tourist Gary Pine told Sky News his son saw someone who got shot at the resort in Tunisia.
“There was a mass exodus off the beach,” he said, adding guests at his hotel were first told to lock themselves in their rooms, and later to gather in the lobby.
Elizabeth O’Brien, an Irish tourist on holiday with her two sons, told Irish Radio she was on the beach when she heard what she initially thought was fireworks.
“I thought ‘oh my God, it sounds like gunfire’, so I just ran to the sea to my children and grabbed our things,” she said, before fleeing to her hotel room.
Since overthrowing its secular dictator in 2011, Tunisia has been plagued by terror attacks — though only recently have they targeted the vital tourism sector.
In March, two gunmen attacked the national museum in Tunis killing at least 22 people, all but one tourists.
A group pledging allegiance to the radical Islamic State group claimed that attack and has promised more in Tunisia.
Violent attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France
Tourism is a major part of the Tunisian economy, especially in coastal resorts like Sousse and it suffered in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution.
With a return to stability and new elections in late 2014 it was slowly recovering, until the attack on the Bardo museum. The effect from that weighed on tourism receipts again: income from tourism in the first five months of 2015, was 15 percent less than the previous year.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy confirmed that one of the two beachside hotels where tourists were shot in Tunisia is owned by the Spanish company RIU.
The company’s media office said RIU’s board of directors was holding an emergency meeting following the attack.
Report compiled with information from The Associated Press.
Cole Bockenfeld on the tragedy in Tunisia
For more on the tragedy in Tunisia, CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes spoke to Cole Bockenfeld. He is an expert on Middle East affairs and conflicts in North Africa.
Cole Bockenfeld on the tragedy in TunisiaFor more on the tragedy in Tunisia, CCTV America's Elaine Reyes spoke to Cole Bockenfeld. He is an expert on Middle East affairs and conflicts in North Africa.
Ambassador Faycal Gouiaa on the Tunisian attacks
CCTV’s Mike Walter spoke to Tunisian Ambassador Faycal Gouiaa about the attacks.