Tunisia declares state of emergency after hotel attack

Government to close 80 mosques it says are preaching extremist messages

Members of the Tunisian security services stand guard during a memorial ceremony and minute’s silence for the victims of a terror attack on a beach outside the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, in the popular tourist resort of al-Sousse. Photograph: Mohamed Messara/EPA

Members of the Tunisian security services stand guard during a memorial ceremony and minute’s silence for the victims of a terror attack on a beach outside the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, in the popular tourist resort of al-Sousse. Photograph: Mohamed Messara/EPA

 

Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi declared a state of emergency on Saturday to give his government more powers following an Islamic militant attack on a beach hotel, where 38 foreign tourists, mostly Britons, were killed.

Tunisia’s emergency law temporarily gives the government more executive flexibility, hands the army and police more authority, and restricts certain rights such as the right to public assembly.

The attack on the Sousse beach resort last Friday followed a gun attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis in March - two of the worst militant assaults in Tunisia’s modern history, and a pressing threat to its vital tourist industry.

Tunisian officials say all three gunmen in those two attacks had been trained at the same time, over the border in jihadist camps in Libya, where a conflict between two rival governments has allowed Islamist militant groups to gain ground.

Tunisia last had a state of emergency during the 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Lorna Carty from Robinstown, Co Meath, and Martina and Laurence Hayes from Westlodge, Athlone, were killed last week when Tunisian student Seifeddine Rezgui opened fire on a beach in the Sousse region.

A minute’s silence was held in the Dáil on Tuesday for the victims, while flags flew at half mast on Government Buildings .

Books of condolences were also opened in Meath, Athlone and online by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

In reaction to militant recruiters, the Tunisian government says it will close 80 mosques that are operating illegally or preaching extremist messages.

Tunisian authorities believe militant group Ansar al-Sharia is responsible for orchestrating the attack against the Sousse hotel, which prompted thousands of tourists to leave Tunisia and is expected to cause $500 million (€450 million) in losses to the sector.

Ansar al-Sharia

Islamic State militants, though, have claimed the massacre on the Imperial Marhaba hotel a week ago when the gunman shot tourists as they sat at the beach and pool in the worst such militant attack in the country’s modern history.

Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaeda linked organisation, was blamed for the storming of the US embassy in Tunis in 2012 and the assassination of two Tunisian opposition leaders. But it has mostly disbanded and its hardline militants left to fight overseas in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

“For the moment, this was Ansar al-Sharia who were behind this,” said the Tunisian security source.

Islamic State also claimed the Bardo attack, but the government said it was linked to local Okba Ibn Nafaa brigade.

Tunisian officials say all three gunmen in those two attacks had been trained at the same time over the border in jihadist camps in Libya, where a conflict between two rival governments has allowed Islamist militant groups to gain ground.

The final five bodies of the Britons killed in the Tunisian beach massacre were flown back to the UK on Saturday. Some 30 British people were among the 38 killed by gunman Seifeddine Rezgui on the beach at Sousse. On Friday the Queen and the David Cameron joined millions of people across the country in a minute’s silence in a solemn tribute to those killed.

Reuters