Tunisian gunman brainwashed, says neighbour

Seifeddine Rezgui, with a Kalashnikov, strolling down the beach on Friday in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse, where he killed 39 tourists and wounded 38 others as witnesses watched in horror.
Seifeddine Rezgui, with a Kalashnikov, strolling down the beach on Friday in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse, where he killed 39 tourists and wounded 38 others as witnesses watched in horror.PHOTO: SKY NEWS

LONDON/GAAFOUR (Tunisia) - They knew him as just a regular young man who enjoyed breakdancing and rooted for the Spanish football team Real Madrid.

So it came as a shock to relatives and neighbours that engineering student Seifeddine Rezgui, 23, had gunned down dozens of holidaymakers on a Tunisian beach on Friday, killing 39 and wounding 38 of them.

"He used to use hair gel and wear the nicest of clothes, and he used to breakdance," his uncle Ali Al-Rezgui was quoted by British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph as saying. "Now he is shooting people with a Kalashnikov, it's just so confusing."

"We were all shocked when we heard the news and saw his picture, and his mother was devastated," he said.

A neighbour and family friend in Seifeddine's home town of Gaafour, Ms Monia Riahi, 50, described the young man as "good, good, good!" and suggested that he might have been brainwashed.

"I've known him since he was small. He was never in trouble with anyone ever. Maybe he was brainwashed or something," she was quoted by British newspaper the Observer as saying.

Another neighbour, Mr Ammar Fazai, 64, told the Observer: "I think maybe, just maybe, it was poverty that did it."

Seifeddine's father, a day labourer who works on farms or the railway line nearby, has been taken away to Tunis, the capital, for questioning, reports said.

Seifeddine, dressed in black shorts and a T-shirt on the day of the killings in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse, was eventually shot and killed by a policeman.

He had no known police record and had never travelled abroad, Tunisian officials were reported as saying.

Yet, amid his Facebook postings of rap music, Real Madrid and Tunisia's chances in the Africa Cup of Nations in February were numerous entries in support of the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), reported the Sunday Telegraph.

The paper noted that the radical postings started to appear only early last year, with a final entry dated New Year 2015 that reads: "May God take me out of this unjust world and perish its people and make them suffer. They just remember you when they die." The young man had last year enrolled for a master's degree at a university in the ancient city of Kairouan, one of the earliest centres of Sunni Muslim Islamic scholarship and more recently, a centre for Islamic radicalism, the paper added.

A resident of Kairouan Salah Korbia told the London Sunday Times that Seifeddine and his four flatmates were not welcome in the town due to their conservative ideology.

ISIS has released a picture of the young man, clean-cut and in a white T-shirt, wearing a smile and looking relaxed, with two Kalashnikovs in the background.

An ISIS post described him thus: "Soldier of the Khalifat, Abu Yahya AlQuirawani, may God accept him, a night of the Sousse invasion in the Muslim Tunisia".

Agence France-Presse reported yesterday that ISIS has executed more than 3,000 people in Syria, including hundreds of civilians, in the year since it declared its self-described "caliphate", quoting a monitor.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group monitoring Syria's conflict, said it had documented 3,027 executions by ISIS since June 29 last year. Among those executed are 1,787 civilians, including 74 children, it said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2015, with the headline 'Tunisian gunman brainwashed, says neighbour'. Print Edition | Subscribe