Tunisia attack: Britain must prepare for high death toll, PM warns

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionDavid Cameron: "These were innocent holiday-makers"

The public must be prepared for a high British death toll following the attack on a Tunisian beach resort, Prime Minister David Cameron says.

A Tunisian student linked to Islamic State (IS) carried out the gun attack in Sousse which killed 38.

Tunisia's PM Habib Essid says the majority of the dead were British.

The first Briton known to have been killed in the attack has been named locally as Carly Lovett from Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.

Adrian Evans, an employee of Sandwell Council in the West Midlands along with his nephew Joel Richards, 22, are also among the dead, according to local sources.

So far, five Britons have been confirmed dead by the Foreign Office, and the Tunisian health ministry said eight Britons had been identified among the dead.

Read more developments on this story here

Thomson and First Choice said some of the fatalities were their customers and they have sent 10 planes to bring home 2,500 tourists.

The Foreign Office's helpline number is 0207 008 0000. Thomson and First Choice's helpline number is 0800 088 5372.

The prime minister said his "thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of those killed or injured".

"We are working with the Tunisian authorities to identify the final number of British casualties but I'm afraid that the British public need to be prepared for the fact that many of those killed were British," he added.

One Belgian and one German had also so far been identified among the dead, the Tunisian health ministry said, with 36 others wounded. Meanwhile Irish national Lorna Carty, who was in her 50s, was confirmed dead by the Irish government.

None of the identities of the British fatalities has been officially released. A team of consular staff, police and Red Cross experts arrived in Tunisia on Saturday to assist in investigations.

Aftermath of attack

Image copyright AP

Toby Brown, BBC News

A small section of the beach was cordoned off with black and yellow tape, behind which the owners of the hotel briefed the collected media. Their tone was resigned but defiant. "We will rebuild," said Zohra Driss, an MP and owner of the Imperial Marhaba.

Beyond the impromptu press conference, the terraces where the main killing took place were deserted. For how long no-one really knows.

Further down the beach a few sunbathers took advantage of the blistering sunshine and gazed out across the azure sea, where two patrol boats carried security men with automatic rifles.

Mr Cameron called the attack on the beach "savage".

Speaking in Downing Street after chairing an emergency meeting about the attacks, he said he could only imagine the "pain, and anguish and agony" of families caught up in these "terrible events".

He also called on the British people to work together with the authorities to "combat this poisonous narrative of Islamist extremism that is radicalising too many young minds in our country", saying the "terrorists will not succeed".

The attack started at about noon on Friday when the gunman, who security officials said had posed as a swimmer but was carrying a rifle under a parasol, started shooting on the beach - near the Hotel Riu Imperial Marhaba and the Bellevue hotel - before entering the Hotel Imperial Marhaba, continuing to shoot.

The gunman - named later as Seifeddine Rezgui, a student not previously known to authorities - was then shot dead by police.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption People have been laying floral tributes on the beach at Sousse
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tourists have been leaving Tunisia following the shooting incident
Image caption The BBC's Ben Brown says a few tourists in Sousse are back around their hotel pools

IS said it was behind the attack on what it called a "den of vice".

It identified the gunman by the nom de guerre of Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani. Social media accounts close to the group showed pictures of him.

The BBC's Jim Muir, who is in the gunman's home village of Jaafour, said his parents, sister and close friends had been detained by the Tunisian authorities.

But he spoke to an uncle and cousin of the man who said there had been nothing in his behaviour to indicate he had been radicalised or that he was about to carry out an attack.

He said: "Everybody we have talked to here in the village... they all said he was just a very normal guy. He prayed like other people here, he fasted like other people here, but he showed no signs at all of extremism."

We are seeking your stories relating to the Tunisia attacks. If you or anyone you know has been affected please contact us in the following ways.

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist.

A number of Britons have issued desperate pleas for information about relatives who have not made contact since the attack.

Conor Fulford, from Tamworth in Staffordshire, said his mother Sue Davey was missing but he thought he had seen her on a stretcher during a television report.

"My sisters back home, they're convinced," he said. "But again that's not 100%. In this sort of situation you're just clutching at straws aren't you. I'm just trying to get on the internet and just trying to get people in and around the area to try... and find where she is."

Daniel Welch, from Swindon in Wiltshire, said his family were desperate for information about his grandfather John Welch, 74 and his partner Eileen Swannack, 70.

He said the couple, who had visited the Imperial Marhaba twice a year for the past eight years, had not made contact since the attack.

"We are at a bit of a loss and we can only expect the worst," Mr Welch said.

Image copyright AP
Image caption An image published on sites associated with Islamic State purported to show the Tunisian gunman
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The bodies of the victims were strewn across the beach
Image caption Tony Callaghan shows the bullets holes left in his wife's glasses case
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tourists were ordered off the beach into the neighbouring hotels

Hospital treatment

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Briton Criss Callaghan (left), 62, who survived the attack, with her husband Tony at a Sousse hospital

By Mark Lowen, BBC News in Sousse

The clinics of Sousse aren't used to dealing with gunshot wounds. A quiet tourist town, it's been severely shaken by this tragedy.

At the Sahloul University hospital, they're taking in the victims.

Over 20 are being treated here: one is in intensive care, others waiting for operations on limbs punctured by bullets.

Tony Callaghan, from Norfolk, was at the Imperial Hotel with his wife - their third time here. The attack sent him running from the beach into the hotel, crying out for his wife to take cover.

One bullet hit his knee. He ended up with a group in one room, barricading themselves in.

He could hear his wife outside crying for help. Welling up with tears, he tells me he didn't know if he'd see her alive.

But then he holds up her bag, with her glasses case inside. Both bear bullet holes, the lens of the glasses shattered.

The bag took the impact of the bullet which then hit her leg. And she too waits, upstairs at the Sahloul hospital, not knowing when she and her husband will get home.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSurvivor: "As I turned, the bullet just hit me in my arm. And I just ran to the sea"

'He took a bullet for me'

Image copyright Wales News Service

One survivor told the BBC how her fiance Matthew James, a Welsh tourist, had been shot three times as he used his body as a shield.

"He took a bullet for me," said Saera Wilson. "I owe him my life because he threw himself in front of me when the shooting started. It was the bravest thing I've ever known."

Shot Welshman due to be flown home

Thomson and First Choice, which have about 6,400 customers in Tunisia, said the two hotels where the attacks took place were part of their programme.

The firms' owner Tui said anyone who wanted to return home could do so by Sunday. It said about 1,000 customers had returned by Saturday morning.

The joint chief executive of Tui, Peter Long, said he had been "deeply shocked" by events and the whole organisation was "reeling with pain" at its customers' suffering.

In other travel developments:

  • All Thomson and First Choice holidays to Tunisia for the next week have been cancelled
  • ABTA travel association estimates there are approximately 20,000 customers currently on holiday with its members in Tunisia, but says there will also be a number of holidaymakers who have travelled independently.
  • Easyjet said it would provide an additional flight from Monastir, Tunisia, at 17:45 GMT (18:45 BST) for customers who wish to fly home early.
  • Jet2holidays and travel companies are putting on up to four aircraft from Enfhida Airport on Saturday afternoon to repatriate those who want to return home.

The Foreign Office said in its updated travel advice - which discourages all travel and all but essential visits to some parts of the country - that anyone in the area should keep in touch with their tour operator and follow any advice from Tunisian security authorities.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said UK security arrangements were under "continuous review" following the "appalling murders" in Tunisia.

Police have appealed for anyone who was on the beach at Sousse to come forward with information or material that could help with inquiries.

Extra officers are at British airports this weekend to identify potential witnesses returning from Tunisia.

And security measures at a number of events and celebrations taking place in the UK are being reviewed.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionOlivia Leathley: "Hundreds of people were running screaming from the beach"

'Won't be beaten'

Dave Beardman from Accrington is staying in the area and was still in his hotel on Saturday morning. He said there is "a great deal of distress and tension" in its reception.

"Children are crying and people are trying to make phone calls."

Others have left already. Jeremy Moore, who landed at Gatwick on Saturday, said he was "pleased to get home" and passengers on his plane were clapping as it landed.

Olivia Leathley returned home to Manchester with her boyfriend Mike Jones. She said they had heard grenades exploding and had run to a hotel security lodge with its employees.

"We didn't feel safe until our feet were on British soil," she added.

But some Britons said they would stay on in Tunisia.

Sally Groome, from Beverley near Hull, said: "[We are] scared to death but staying. We won't be beaten. We've had reassurance that we are in a very safe place and we feel confident that it can't happen again. It won't happen again, it was a one-off."

Day of attacks

The shooting in Tunisia came on Friday, the same day as:

France, Kuwait and Tunisia attacks: What we know and are the three attacks connected?

Who could be behind Tunisia attack?

Are you in Tunisia? Do you have friends or family who are in the area? Are you affected by the issues raised in this story? Please email with your experiences.

If you would be happy to speak further to a BBC journalist, please include a contact telephone number. You can also tweet your stories to @BBC_HaveYourSay or text 61124. If you are outside the UK, send them to the international number +44 7624 800 100.

Or WhatsApp us on +44 7525 900971

Read our terms and conditions.

Or comment below.

Your contact details

If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions

The BBC's Privacy Policy

More on this story