World Africa First Look

British inquest on 2015 beach attack criticizes Tunisian police, as several face trial

Judge Nicholas Lorraine-Smith, presiding over a seven-week inquest into the deaths, ruled that the tour operator hadn’t been negligent. He did, however, criticize Tunisian police for a bungled response.

A general view shows the Imperial Marhaba resort hotel in the town of Sousse in Tunisia, on Feb. 28, 2017, the site of a 2015 Tunisia terrorist attack that killed 30 British tourists.
Zoubeir Souissi/ Reuters | Caption

On Tuesday, families of the 30 British tourists killed in a 2015 Tunisia terrorist attack announced their intent to sue Tui, the company that had arranged their trips, for failing to keep its customers safe.

But that same day, Judge Nicholas Lorraine-Smith, presiding over a seven-week inquest into the deaths, ruled that the tour operator hadn’t been negligent. He did, however, criticize Tunisian police for a bungled response.

“They had everything they required to confront the gunman, and could have been at the scene within minutes,” Judge Loraine-Smith said, according to The Guardian. But many panicked and fled, allowing gunman Seifeddine Rezgui to shoot and throw grenades at the Imperial Marhaba hotel for about 30 minutes. 

“The response by police was at best shambolic and at worst cowardly,” he added, according to the Associated Press.

Afterwards, Tunisian officials quickly emphasized that they had referred more than 30 people to trial for criminal negligence during the attack, including at least six police officers.

Tunisia's fight against terror has faced new challenges since the 2011 revolution, with economic difficulties and an initial power vacuum fostering a recruiting ground for extremism. Now, as some fighters begin to make their way back to Tunisia from jihad abroad, the country is debating how to mitigate the threat they could pose at home.

International observers often hold up Tunisia as the Arab Spring’s only true “success story:” a country that cast off its strongman leader and built a functioning democracy, avoiding the authoritarian regimes or civil violence that took root elsewhere in the region.

But many problems remain for this North African nation of 11 million people, as high hopes for better employment rates fell short. As the tourism industry took a hit, and youth unemployment increased, many headed for Europe, or conflict zones in Syria or neighboring Libya.

"Unemployment, a lack of hope, and extremism are the three major threats to Tunisia's future," Walid al-Bannani, a member of the country's parliament, told The Christian Science Monitor last October. 

Between 3,000 and 6,000 Tunisians have fought with the self-declared Islamic State, prompting debates about how to mitigate the threat when they return. One of these Tunisians was the 24-year-old Mr. Rezgui, who was radicalized by the group and underwent training in Libya, The New York Times reports.

"We do not know how these people can come back and have the same values as we do, the sense of belonging to Tunisia, to the Tunisian nation," activist Boutheina Chihi Ezzine, who led a protest of more than 1,000 people after the Berlin attacks, told the AP. 

The European Union, eager to mitigate migration and terrorism risks from the country, pledged more than 213 million euros’ worth of aid to the country in early December 2016. Just weeks later, a Tunisian man drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market, killing twelve people.

On Wednesday, Tunisian state media reported that 33 people – including at least six police officers – were being referred to trial for criminal negligence for failing to help the victims, who included tourists from other European countries.

Sofiene Selliti, a spokesperson for the country’s Justice Ministry, linked the announcement to British pressure, saying that he was publicizing the prosecutions only “because of that British report.”

“We were not planning on telling people about this,” the Times quoted him as saying. “Everyone was asking for a comment, and we had to respond and show that we, too, are working.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.