Britain prepares for worst terror death toll in decade

Most of victims of shooting at Tunisian beach resort are said to be British

London - As Britain braces itself for the worst death toll in a terror incident in nearly a decade, intelligence services are scrambling to assess if Friday's bloody attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France are linked.

These followed calls by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group for a wave of violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the shooting at a Tunisian beach resort and the suicide bombing at a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait.

While Tunisian authorities have identified at least eight Britons among the 38 killed by the gunman, said to be a 23-year-old Tunisian student, most of the dead are believed to be British.

The attack made the front page of all British newspapers yesterday, with headlines such as "Slaughter on the beach" accompanying stark photographs of bodies lying in the sand covered by beach towels.

Many papers published the story of 30-year-old Matthew James, who miraculously survived despite being shot three times as he protected his fiancee.

The shooting is the deadliest terror attack for Britain since 52 people were killed in the July 7, 2005 London bombings.

As the grim process of identifying the bodies continued, travel firms have begun repatriating thousands of British tourists from beach resorts around the attack site near Sousse, about 140km south of Tunis. There are about 20,000 British tourists on package holidays in Tunisia, according to ABTA, the country's largest travel association.

The mass shooting is the deadliest in Tunisia's recent history and comes after an ISIS attack in March on the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 21 foreign tourists.

The attack is certain to deal a further blow to Tunisia's tourism sector, a pillar of the local economy.

Kuwait's Interior Ministry said yesterday it had detained among others the owner of a vehicle that the suicide bomber had used to get to the Shi'ite mosque where he blew himself up, killing 27 and wounding 200 people mid-prayer.

The suicide bombing followed the pattern of similar attacks on Shi'ite mosques in Saudi Arabia and appeared aimed at sowing sectarian discord in a country where Sunnis and Shi'ites serve together in top government bodies and open friction between them is uncommon.

Meanwhile, French police interrogated a 35-year-old delivery man of North African origin over an attack involving the beheading of his boss and an attempt to blow up a chemicals plant, in the second attack by Muslim extremists to hit France in six months.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that France faced more attacks and that Friday's assault on a gas factory near Lyon would raise tensions in the country and put citizens' resilience "to the test".

Though the motivation behind the attack was less clear, the beheading suggested that the perpetrator had at least been inspired by similar executions by ISIS militants.

In a televised statement from Downing Street, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "These savage terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France are a brutal and tragic reminder of the threat faced around the world from these evil terrorists." Britain's terrorism threat level is currently at severe, the second highest of five.

Yesterday, Singapore joined other countries in strongly condemning "the acts of violence and the loss of innocent lives".

"We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims on their tragic loss," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "These brutal acts of terror are another reminder that we need to remain vigilant and work closely with our international partners to combat terrorism and counter violent extremism," it added.

AFP, New York Times, Bloomberg

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'Britain prepares for worst terror death toll in decade'. Print Edition | Subscribe