TUNIS (Reuters) - Thirty Britons and eight other foreigners were killed last Friday when a gunman opened fire on holiday-makers at a Tunisian hotel, Tunisia’s health ministry said on Wednesday, completing the last formal identification.
The bloody massacre at the Sousse resort, claimed by Islamic State militants, was the worst such attack in Tunisia’s modern history, delivering a blow to the vital tourist industry just as the North African state consolidates its new democracy.
Four years after a popular uprising toppled autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia is facing a growing threat from Islamist militants who the British government has warned may try to carry out more attacks.
Holidaymakers were still on the beaches in Sousse on Wednesday but in much fewer numbers since thousands left Tunisia. Authorities began deploying more armed tourism police to beef up security at resorts and tourist sites.
The health ministry said all 38 victims had been formally identified. They included 30 Britons, three Irish citizens, two Germans, one Belgian, one Portuguese and one Russian national.
Bodies of some of the British victims were flown home from Tunisia in a Royal Air Force plane.
British, German and French ministers visited the Imperial Marhaba hotel site of the attack last week in a show of solidarity and to offer Tunisia support in frontier and airport security and intelligence sharing.
“There is still a lot of work to be done to identify all the circumstances of this appalling attack and the support that the gunman received,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament on Wednesday.
“We need to co-ordinate between ourselves how best to support that country on its road to democracy.”
Dressed like a tourist himself, the gunman, Saif Rezgui, targeted only foreigners in his rampage at the Imperial Marhaba before he was shot dead by police. Tunisian authorities say the attacker was trained in Libya at a jihadist camp last year.
Authorities say he was in Libya at the same time as the two gunmen who carried out the March attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis, where 21 people were killed including Japanese, Spanish and Italian tourists.
Three other suspects have been arrested for helping to plan the attack on the Imperial Marhaba hotel, which is in Tunisia’s tourism heartland along with Hammamet and the island of Djerba.
Thousands of tourists have already left Tunisia’s beaches since Friday’s attack and the government has warned of losses totaling $500 million as tour companies cancel booked trips.
Tunisia deployed 1,000 more armed tourism police on Wednesday and plans to call up army reserves to help after acknowledging that it was caught by surprise despite the earlier Bardo attack.
Tourism police in shorts and carrying rifles walked among the scattered tourists on Sousse beach on Wednesday. Others rode beach buggies or moved on horseback among the all-inclusive hotels.
Despite Tunisia’s political progress, more than 3,000 Tunisians have also left to fight for militant Islamist groups in Syria, Iraq and now Libya. Some have threatened to return to carry out attacks in their homeland.
Libya, which is caught up in a battle between two rival factions, has become a haven for Islamic militants and people smugglers taking advantage of the chaos four years after a rebellion toppled strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
Additional reporting by William James in London; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Gareth Jones