TODAY |

Fifteen Britons among dead in Tunisian beach massacre

Thousands of tourists fled from Tunisia after the country's worst terrorist attack killed 38 people - including 15 Britons - as the government struggles to prevent future jihadi attacks against the all-important tourism sector.

New measures to increase the numbers of troops on the streets and crack down on organizations with radical links, however, won't bring the tourists back in the short-term, further threatening the fragile economy.

When a 24-year-old Master's student at Kairouan University strolled on to the Sousse beach and pulled out a Kalashnikov assault rifle and grenades hidden inside his beach umbrella, he was sounding the death knell for Tunisia's 2015 tourist season.

Tunisian authorities identified the attacker as Seifeddine Rezgui, saying he killed 38 people, 15 of them British, as well as German, Irish, Belgian and Portuguese victims, and sent thousands of tourists fleeing to airports.

The wounded included 24 Britons, seven Tunisians, three Belgians, and a German, Russian and Ukrainian.

"It's the first time I've ever been on holiday and feared for my life," said British tourist Matthew Preece, adding it was his third time visiting Tunisia and likely his last. "So obviously you can't come back somewhere it's not safe."

Tourists and employees are returning home with tales of horror cowering in rooms or offices as the killer stalked through the hotel wearing shorts.

European countries and tour operators sent planes to evacuate their citizens. By midday Saturday, nine flights had whisked away 1,400 people, according to Mohammed Walid Ben Ghachem, manager of the Enfidha-Hammamet Airport near Sousse.

At the Imperial Marhaba Hotel itself, the guests had left, according to manager Mohammed Becheur.

"We may have zero clients today, but we will keep our staff," he said, lamenting the 75-percent occupancy rate the day before. "This summer will be hard, but we are very confident for the long term."

On the beach, there were still a few tourists from neighboring hotels. Some laid flowers at the site of the attack while police patrolling on horseback moved down the beach and security boats patrolled the waters.

Armed men on the beach may well become a more common sight in Tunisia, as Prime Minister Habib Essid announced a raft of new security measures that many have questioned why they weren't implemented after the last horrific attack against tourists in March at the National Bardo Museum that killed 22.

"It's clear that the government's security policy requires a massive revision, in the sense that most of the tourist sites weren't well-protected," Tunisian security analyst Alaya Allani said. "If the measures announced are well implemented, we could reduce but not eradicate terrorism."