Tunisian security forces were accused of “cowardice” yesterday during the testimony of a Tunisian judge at a British inquest for failing to respond in proper time to a terrorist attack that occurred in a Tunisian coastal resort in 2015.
38 holiday makers, mostly from the United Kingdom, were gunned down at the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel in the Tunisian city of Sousse on 26 June 2015 by 23-year-old Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi.
Yacoubi’s murderous rampage lasted 40 minutes unchallenged when he entered the hotel unimpeded to carry out the attack on the beach resort.
Armed police took 30 minutes to arrive at the scene when three minutes should have been the expected arrival time, according to a UK tribunal that began last month that is expected to last seven weeks. The tribunal was commissioned to investigate the Sousse attack.
A video was shown at the tribunal that shows the gunman being dropped off by a white van moments before the attack then casually walking off and stalking the hotel lobby looking for his victims.
“[The head of the police operations room]… asked the tourist security team leader to go to the scene with his men but there was no response,” Lazhar Akremi, a Tunisian judge, explained.
According to Akremi, the initial refusal of security forces to respond to the terrorist attack when the emergency was first raised was due to “simple cowardice, when they could have prevented the loss of life.”
The UK tribunal heard the testimonies of one marine who fainted at the scene out of “terror and panic” and another officer who reportedly removed his uniform to prevent himself being a target for the killer.
Daesh later claimed responsibility for the attack when they released a picture of Yacoubi posing with two Kalashnikov rifles on one of their sites.
The Spanish-owned five star hotel was a target for Yacoubi due to its popularity amongst foreign tourists and the minority of Tunisians who visited and stayed at the place, according to the tribunal.
The tourists “needlessly lost their lives” that day, Samantha Leek QC, legal counsel to the tribunal, stated. “[Security forces] had the ability to put an end to the attack before the police arrived but wasted a considerable amount of time in getting to the hotel.”
In a post-mortem report, Yacoubi was found to have high doses of cocaine in his system when he orchestrated the killings.
Three months before the Sousse attacks, 24 people were killed in an attack on the Bardo museum in the country’s capital, Tunis.
Tunisia has seen an increase in violence since 2011’s uprising that subsequently ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power.
Hundreds of Tunisians have gone to fight alongside Daesh in countries like Syria and neighbouring Libya with many Tunisians fearing the fighters’ return to Tunisia as Daesh strongholds are threatened with recapture will prove consequential for Tunisia in its attempts to curb its worrying growth in extremism.