Tunisian hotel trained in Libya gunman, government says

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The Tunisian gunman who carried out a deadly attack on a hotel last Friday trained at a jihadist camp in Libya last year, the Tunisian government announced on Tuesday.

The toll of the assault on the Imperial Marhaba beach hotel in the popular seaside resort of Sousse was revised downward on Tuesday to 38, from 39 previously. Most of the victims were British tourists.

A spokesman for the prime minister said Saif Rezgui, who was killed by police following the rampage, was in Libya along with two Tunisian gunmen who then stormed the Tunis Bardo museum in March.

The assault on the museum left 21 dead. Both attacks dealt a brutal blow to the country’s vital tourism industry.

Authorities arrested three other people for allegedly helping plan Rezgui’s attack, a security source said.

“Rezgui trained in Libya at the end of 2014. He was trained at the same time in Libya as the Bardo attackers,” Prime Minister Dafer Neji’s spokesman told Reuters.

Libya, caught in a multi-faceted battle between two rival governments and their armed factions, has become a target for supporters of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups who have profited from the security chaos.

The two gunmen who carried out the March attack on the Bardo had smuggled into Libya for training late last year, investigators said. Rezgui took out his passport last year, but there was no exit stamp, officials said.

Initial reports from local radio on Friday had suggested there may have been another gunman. However, Tunisian security sources claim that forensic evidence showed that all the victims were shot by the weapon used by Rezgui, indicating that he was alone.

British newspaper Daily Mirror quoted five British holidaymakers who said they saw a second assailant, whom two described as wearing different-colored shorts in Rezgui.

Tunisia’s health ministry said on Tuesday it had identified 33 bodies from Friday’s violence so far, including 25 Britons, three Irish, one Belgian, two Germans, a Russian citizen and a Portuguese national.

The massacre was the worst of its kind in Tunisia, one of the most secular countries in the Arab world, which moved to democracy after a 2011 uprising.

Huge losses

Tunisia expects to lose at least $ 515 million this year, or about a quarter of its estimated annual tourism income, as a result of the attack last Friday.

“The attack had a great impact on the economy, the losses will be significant,” Tourism Minister Salma Loumi told reporters on Monday, giving a preliminary estimate of the Sousse attack.

The North African country earned $ 1.95 billion in tourism revenue last year. The sector accounts for seven percent of its gross domestic product and is a major source of foreign exchange and jobs for Tunisia.

Loumi said the government plans to end a resort tax and also look at debt relief for hoteliers as a way to help support the industry.

The government said another 1,000 armed tourism police would patrol hotels and tourist sites, and army supplies would also be enlisted to bolster protection.

Praised for its new constitution, free elections and policy of compromise after the 2011 uprising to oust autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has also fought against the rise of fundamentalist Islamist movements that flourished at the start of the unrest. .

Some of these groups have turned to violence, and the Tunisian armed forces have carried out occasional skirmishes with local Islamist militants near the border with Algeria.

But more than 3,000 Tunisians have also left to fight for militant Islamist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and some have threatened to return to carry out attacks in their country.

(REUTERS)


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