Tunisia gunman smiled as he shot tourists: witnesses

 A man kisses a Tunisian flag at the site of a shooting attack on the beach in front of the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis, on Sunday. ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre
A man kisses a Tunisian flag at the site of a shooting attack on the beach in front of the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis, on Sunday. ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre in the seaside resort that killed nearly 40 people, most of them British tourists, in the worst attack in the country's recent history. AFP

PORT EL KANTAOUI, Tunisia (AFP) - He was dressed like a tourist, but his intentions were deadly. Witnesses said Sunday the gunman who mowed town tourists at a Tunisian beach smiled as he pulled the trigger.

Armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, the man who massacred 38 people at a popular beach resort on Friday embarked on a murderous rampage witnesses say lasted more than 40 minutes.

Amir Ben Hadj Hassine lives right next to the beach of the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel in Port el Kantaoui where the killings took place.

"Some 40 to 45 minutes went by between the sound of the first bullets until he was killed," said the 22-year-old, still shocked at having seen lifeless bodies sprawled on the sand.

His 16-year-old cousin Malek said he saw the gunman unleash his killing spree.

"I was at the beach. I saw the guy put his parasol down in the sand, squatting just like anyone would to set it up.

"But suddenly he grabbed a Kalashnikov, and started shooting at the sand," the teenager said.

"Everyone stood up to see what was happening, and then we saw him shoot at the tourists, with a big smile on his face.

"We ran for cover, and he headed towards the Imperial Hotel," he said.

Seif, 21, described what he called an "incredible" scene.

"The guy was really at ease - you'd think he was dancing or listening to music as he walked along," he said. "At one point we were very close to him, but he didn't shoot at us. He said: 'You go, I didn't come for you'."

Several witnesses said the gunman singled out tourists on the beach, but according to the health ministry, seven Tunisians were also wounded.

After shooting at people on the beach, the gunman - whom the authorities have identified as Seifeddine Rezgui, a university student born in 1992 - headed towards the hotel itself.

"I saw the guy come into the hotel, totally calm," Amir Ben Hadj Hassine recalled.

Just then, "a patrol boat came in from the sea with two security guards on board. One was armed", he said.

"They didn't want to get down to start with. But when the shots inside the hotel quietened down, they left the boat.

"We asked the armed agent to come into the hotel, but he was scared and didn't shoot," Amir said. "Then a (hotel) animator took his weapon and tried to shoot at the terrorist from far away. But the weapon didn't work."

Seif also said he saw what happened.

"The animator took the policeman's weapon and headed towards the hotel to shoot the gunman. He told the policeman: 'Give me your weapon, let me kill him'," he said.

Hassen, who oversees parasailing at the nearby El Mouradi Palace Hotel, was at the scene with clients when the attack began.

But his account differs slightly. He remembers "seeing the security guard fall over as he stepped backwards and hit a parasol".

"A citizen took his weapon" to "shoot the terrorist", Hassen said.

Minutes later, Amir saw the attacker return to the beach and calmly walk in front of three hotels.

"I was shocked not to see police, even though this area is surrounded by police checkpoints and we're used to regular patrols," he said.

"Of course there is a problem - the police didn't come in time," he said.

Interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui has refused to comment on such allegations, saying that reinforcements arrived "seven to eight minutes" after the gunman first opened fire.