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Tunisian authorities say they have made their first arrests following Friday's beach massacre

The news come as tourists flood home to Europe following the atrocity.

Image: PA/Abdeljalil Bounhar

Updated 20.12

TUNISIAN AUTHORITIES SAY  they have made their first arrests after Friday’s beach massacre that killed 38 people, as European officials paid tribute to victims of the country’s worst jihadist attack.

British Home Secretary Theresa May, visiting the scene of Friday’s gun attack at a holiday resort near Sousse, vowed that “the terrorists will not win” after London warned that Britain’s death toll could rise to “around 30″.

She and her Tunisian, German and French counterparts laid a wreath at the beach to honour the victims.

Pledging to “defeat those who undermine our freedom and democracy”, May said there was no evidence to suggest the Britons were targeted because of their nationality.

The massacre, claimed by the Islamic State group, was the deadliest for Britain since the 2005 London bombings.

Amid fears it could deal a devastating blow to Tunisia’s vital tourism industry, Interior Minister Mohamed Najem Gharsalli said the authorities had arrested “a significant number of people from the network that was behind this terrorist criminal”.

Tunisia Attack Mohamed Gharsalli, with Theresa May (right) Source: PA/Abdeljalil Bounhar

He warned that “anyone who provided any logistical or financial assistance” to the attacker, identified as 23-year-old student Seifeddine Rezgui, would be arrested.

“I promise the victims… that these criminal killers will be brought before Tunisian justice so they are justly punished,” he added.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain had identified 18 of its nationals killed, but warned that the number may rise to “around 30″.

Tunisia says 25 victims have been identified, among them three from Ireland, two Germans, one Belgian, one Portuguese and one Russian.

Another 39 people were wounded, including 25 Britons. A Royal Air Force Boeing C17 will fly the British wounded home late today.

The attack inflicted a terrible blow on Tunisia’s tourism industry, already struggling after a March jihadist attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 22 people.

Returning Home

Some 4,000 tourists have been flown home to Britain since Friday, travel companies Thomson and First Choice said.

France’s travel agencies union said 80 percent of flight and package holidays booked for Tunisia in July have been cancelled, with customers rushing to change destination.

Some tourists chose to stay in Port el Kantaoui, among them John and Lesley Edwards.

“It’s a lovely place and people are great. We didn’t want to leave, we feel pretty safe with the police and the army. There is more police now,” John Edwards said.

“We feel sorry for the staff. We stayed mainly for them. Even if our family calls us every day to tell us to come back.”

At the beach, Ted and Dawn from Suffolk laid down fresh flowers in memory of the dead.

“We did pack (to leave early) but we changed our minds,” Dawn told AFP.

“I have been afraid to get out of the complex but one has to try… These things, you see them on TV, you hear about it, but you never think you’ll live it.”


Social media accounts associated with IS have distributed this image of the 23-year-old gunman

Meanwhile, a profile is beginning to emerge of university student and fan of breakdancing Seifeddine Rezgui, the man identified as the gunman.

In his hometown of Gaafour, a small city in northwestern Tunisia, friends and family painted a picture of a law-abiding young man who seemed far removed from a jihadist fanatic.

His cousin Nizar told AFP that just the day before the attack he had seen Rezgui in Gaafour, where the young man would return to work as a waiter to finance his studies for a master’s degree at a technical institute in central Tunisia.

“He was normal. He came here, he worked in the cafe, he went home, he went to pray and he hung out with the guys at the cafe,” said Nizar, 32.

“All Gaafour was surprised.”

Tunisian authorities have admitted that Rezgui was not on their radar, saying there were no indications that he could be planning such an attack.

“He was unknown to our services. His family environment was normal,” ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui told private television channel El Hiwar Ettounsi.

In a report on Rezgui, the channel branded him the “enigmatic terrorist”, asking: “How does a university graduate go from being a young man who succeeds in his studies to becoming a terrorist and killer of innocent people?”

At the tiny family home in Gaafour’s poor neighbourhood of Hay Ezzouhour, visitors have been expressing their condolences to Rezgui’s devastated father.

Approached by reporters, he wearily turned them away, saying: “Please, don’t talk to me.”

Like many others in the neighbourhood, Rezgui’s uncle Ali, 71, said he was shocked.

“In 23 years, he never did anything illegal. He finished his classes, he laughed, he’d say hello and go on his way,” he told AFP.

“How did he train? Where did he train? Only God knows. This is what is tormenting us right now,” Ali said.

Many of those who knew Rezgui said he seemed not at all like a “soldier of the caliphate” – as he was dubbed by the Islamic State group when it claimed responsibility for the attack.

A young man from Gaafour said he had met Rezgui at a local youth centre dance club.

“He was a really good breakdancer,” he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity as he feared he would be suspected of links to the attacker.

Tunisian media have aired a video from 2010 showing a young man breakdancing in a cap and identifying him as Rezgui.

Interviewed by Tunisian media, several of his neighbours in Kairouan, where he studied at the Higher Institute of Technological Studies (ISET), said they had not noticed anything unusual.

But, according to the interior ministry, Rezgui had been isolating himself in the lead-up to the attack.

“Recently his companions noticed a kind of rigorousness in him and that he was developing a tendency for solitude,” Aroui said.

“He threw himself into the Internet and didn’t even want to show his friends what he was surfing. He would isolate himself when he went on the Internet.”

Security sources told AFP there was no record of Rezgui travelling to Libya, where some jihadists have pledged allegiance to IS, but said that he may have crossed into the chaos-wracked country illegally.

- © AFP, 2015

Originally published at 13.47

Read: This is the man the Islamic State claims was responsible for Tunisia attack >

Read: New footage shows hotel workers pursuing Tunisia beach attacker >

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