tv Terror on the Beach BBC News January 13, 2017 3:30am-4:01am GMT
on panorama tonight: we return to tunisia to investigate the terror attack on the beach. i was on my knees. i just kept praying to god to keep us alive. we find the holidaymakers who say they were misled about the risks. i was just constantly asking the question — are we going to be safe? we expose the police failures that may have cost lives. the policeman admitted he was so scared he fainted. and we identify the man accused of masterminding the attack. i've not seen that, if that's right and the families see that, they'll be shocked to see the face of the man that caused them such terrible sadness. as the inquests into the deaths of 30 british tourists prepare to open, we ask whether people could have been saved. this stretch of the beach at sousse
in tunisia is now abandoned. it used to be packed with british tourists. onjune 26, 2015, around 11. 30am, a man dressed in black walked up the beach. he was carrying an assault rifle. everything seemed to go in slow motion and as i looked across, there was a man standing there with a gun. his eyes made contact with mine. the gunman opened fire on holidaymakers sun bathing in front of the imperial hotel. it was captured on a mobile phone. gunfire
the gunfire was just so loud and rapid. it was all around us, the explosions. it was as if you were in the middle of a war zone. all i kept hearing was people screaming and shouting. it was like mass panic. inside the hotel, the gunman hunted people down in the corridors. she said, "i can't run no." i said, "if you don't run, i'm not going to see you again." some holidaymakers took refuge in nearby hotels. others were taken in by local shop keepers. meanwhile, inside the imperial, people barricaded themselves in their rooms. i was on my knees. i just kept praying to god to keep us alive. we didn't expect to get out.
we really didn't. it was brave tunisians on the beach who chased the gunman, seifeddine rezgui. the security forces were nowhere to be seen. 38 tourists were killed, 30 of them british. the inquests into their deaths start next week, but we've discovered shocking information about the sousse attack. we've seen statements from police officers there on the day, which reveal an extraordinary catalogue of failures. we've pieced together and retraced the movements of different police units that day. that morning, the chief
of the tourist police, the man responsible for the safety of holidaymakers, was here at the hannibal round about when he received a call. the police chief was told there was gunfire on the beach. he was just five minutes away with his men in the car. they had two assault rifles and bullet—proof vests. but in his statement the police chief admits he was afraid. instead of going straight to where the shooting was, the police chief decided to carry on down this road and to go to this police station over here, in a desperate search for more weapons. there was also a horse back patrol just a mile—and—a—half along the beach, but they didn't respond. their excuse? their pistols were no match for the gunman‘s kalashnikov. another police patrol on a quad bike claimed to have a flat tyre. as rezgui moved into the hotel,
the police chief was still at the station. finally the police chief and his men left the station and made their way down to the beach towards the hotels. two other police officers then arrived by boat, armed with an assault rifle. their admissions are the most shocking of all. 0ne takes off his police shirt, so he won't be shot. the other faints out of fear. when the police chief and his men finally arrived, they wasted more time by going to the wrong hotel. from the time that rezgui fired his first shot, it was around a0 minutes before he was finally killed down this road.
the tunisian authorities concluded the police had no plan to counter a terror attack, they weren't professional and didn't do their duty. if they had, perhaps lives could have been saved. we told the lawyers representing families at the inquests about these revelations. the police response was chaotic. they didn't communicate properly, they were slow. they seemed to be afraid of confronting the gunman. what do you think would be the families' response to that? they'll be shocked to hear that. the families would have been affected by the time it took for the police to get to the hotel. some families have lost two oi’ more members. they‘ re having therapy for psychiatric conditions. some have financial losses. they lost their main bread winner and have got real money worries. it's a devastating on all concerned. the attack shouldn't
have come as a surprise. the arab spring began right here in tunisia six years ago. the dictatorship was toppled. the once all—powerful security forces were in disarray. and it wasn't long before islamist militants gained a foothold. disillusioned young tunisians have since joined the so—called islamic state in their thousands. the is strategy was soon revealed — to undermine tourism, the country's economic lifeline. in 2013, nearly two years before the sousse attack, a suicide bomber tried to kill tourists at another hotel along the same beach.
he came directly from the beach. he tried to go through our security line. and thanks to our security, they stopped him and asked him what he's doing and what he's trying to do. there he panicked and he explodes himself a little bit early. the bomber killed himself, but no—one else. this attack should have been a wake—up call for the security forces and the tourism industry. the threat was reinforced again six months before the shootings at sousse in an islamic state propaganda video. three months later, in march 2015, tunisia's most famous museum, the bardo, was targeted by is.
we've obtained documents which show the local police chief had been asking for extra security. he didn't get it. shortly after, the museum was attacked. museum guide hamadi ben abdesslem was here the day two is gunmen stormed in unchallenged. on that day, there was only one armed guard and he ran away. hamadi is pictured on mobile phone footage as a shot rings out.
hamadi managed to lead his group to safety. 0thers weren't so lucky. french tourists francoise thauvin and her mother were in the room where the gunman first opened fire. francoise was shot and fell to the floor. translation: i raised my head slowly and found myself face to face with the terrorist. he was looking at what he'd done. i thought to myself, "he's going to kill me, finish the job he's started." when tunisian security forces got there, they didn't know where the gunmen were, because the cctv coverage was so poor.
francoise hid beneath a dead body for more than two hours before she was rescued. translation: i saw my mother stretched out in a pool of blood. someone next to us had taken a bullet to the head. someone else died at our feet. it was carnage. 22 people from ten countries died. amongst them was francoise's mother, hugette, and a british woman, sally jane adey. hamadi doesn't show foreign tourists round any more. most europeans were frightened away. translation: the jihadis are people who've been manipulated. they're not aware of the acts they carry out. it's brain washing because they are young. both gunmen were killed
at the bardo museum. within a week, the police had arrested 23 suspected accomplices. some admitted helping plan the attack. and we've obtained their confessions. these confessions reveal that three months before the sousse beach attack, the cell had been plotting a hit on another tourist resort. this time near the capital, tunis. the plan was to use machine guns to mow down tourists. it never happened here, but the alleged confessions should have been a sign, a clear sign to the tunisian government ofjust what thejihadis had in mind. despite the obvious risks, the tunisian authorities failed to improve security in the beach areas.
so why were british tourists travelling to such a risky place? the terror threat was clear, but the foreign office didn't advise british tourists against going to most parts of tunisia. they did warn them to be vigilant, but beach areas like sousse remained green, clear to go. in the three months after bardo, 148,000 british tourists went to tunisia. went on the websites, the government websites and everything and all we were told, we would be safe. we were doing that nearly every week. as far as i was aware, you'd be safe. so you trust in them sort of people who knew. nicki and andy duffield had booked their holiday to sousse with thomson. after the bardo attack, they rang them many times. i was just constantly asking the question —
are we going to be safe? can you guarantee we're going to be safe? what did they say? yes, we would. we were definitely told that there would be increased security. the duffields say they were told they couldn't cancel because of bardo and get their money back. all i was told by my wife when she rang them up, basically if you cancel, you lost all your money. i thought, well, we've paid it, we've got assurance it was safe, so we thought we'd go along. we travelled out on the sunday before... alison caine had also booked with thomson to go to the imperial at sousse with her husband. we called them on the 23 march after bardo to make sure that it was still safe to travel. they reassured us it was and security had been stepped up. ijust wanted to make sure again, the following month, so we called them on april 6 again, just to double check. what did they say?
everything was fine. it was safe to travel. they were not doing any refunds or transfers. so, again, we were reassured. if you'd tried to cancel at that point, you wouldn't have got your money back? no, we wouldn't. thomson job didn't just reassure existing customers but cut prices after bardo to attract new ones. but british holiday—makers say security wasn't increased. alison had been to the imperial before. she thought security had got worse, not better. i did notice this one particular night, when we left the hotel there wasn't any guards on the front gate at all. none? no security, none at all, which i thought was odd because there's always somebody sitting there. but when we came back from our walk
there was one guard just sitting one side of the gate. the duffields were shocked by the lack of protection on the beach side of the hotel. there was no security, absolutely none. that surprised us after hearing from thomson that there would be the security. the gate was just like a normal wire fence gate that led to the beach. there was nothing else about that. there were plenty of workers about there they were just workers, nothing else. no security? no security, nothing. thomson is owned by the joint european tour operator tui. tui didn't just arrange the holidays, it co—owns the company that ran the hotel.
so was tui responsible for the lack of security? they will be responsible for the provision of all services of the hotel. including security and safety? including all security precautions that the hotel should have provided to its guests. tui says it is cooperating fully to help ensure that the tragic deaths can be thoroughly investigated. the relavent facts determined and lessons learned. tui says it would be inappropriate to comment further before the inquest but don't accept the accuracy of many of the statements that have been made. the foreign office also said it wouldn't comment on specifics before the inquest. but the purpose of their travel advice is to give the best possible understanding of the context, threats and hazards. tui could have improved security. some hotels already had. so the boys at their main door at checking the customers
inside the car, who they are, why they are coming, who are they exactly. gerard moutou runs one of the best protected hotels in tunisia. every part of the radisson is watched by 75 cctv cameras. here you can see at the front desk, you can see all the customers checking in. somebody is on duty here all the time? 24-7. it is recording for up to three months. the beach here, that's our private beach. the hotel is protected by 2a security officers and two armed tunisian policeman. this level of security had been put in place before the sousse attack. we were very proactive. as soon as something happened, we increased the security level of the hotel. why?
for a simple reason. we couldn't afford to lose any customers. all the tourist hotels and the police are now implementing tighter security measures. but it may have come too late to save tunisia's tourist industry. this is the side road where so many british tourists escaped off the beach and many of the shop owners gave them shelter, but it's all closed down now, it's a ghost town. eventually i did find the owner of one of the stores. translation: since the attack there is no more business. i turned my shops into apartments. tourists don't come here any more, there are none. that's what the bad guys wanted for us. back on the beach i caught
up with mehdi jameli, one of the tunisian workers who chased the gunman that day. translation: when i walk here and remember what happened, i get the shivers. i start asking myself, why didn't i do this, instead of that? why didn't i hide behind a boat and hit him? i think about it all the time. mehdi risked his life to protect the tourists. now he's lost his job on the beach, along with hundreds of others. translation: in tunisia, if there's tourism the whole country is fine. if there is no tourism, the whole country suffers. the imperial hotel is still closed. tui's pulled out, but the owner
of the building is planning to reopen it soon. she's hoping new security measures will persuade britain to lift its effective ban on tourist travel to tunisia. translation: we're extremely vigilant now in tunisia. on the beaches, at the airport, on the roads, everywhere. so please remove this travel ban, because it's useless. to me, it'sjust punishing tunisia. but the threat is still there, as young tunisians continued to join the islamic state every day. thamer‘s brother was recruited last year. he showed me the mosque in the back streets of sousse where he believes it all started. this is the mosque where my brother used to pray.
i'm100% sure someone had brainwashed him. talking about the dream to have islamic state and to follow the religion. within weeks, thamer‘s brother mohammed had left for libya without saying goodbye. what he's doing is not right, it's not right, no one wants that. it's not right, because killing people in the name of god is, for me, you're out of the religion. and of course there is a big problem here in tunisia because there are so many young men like your brother, who have gone to jihad and if they came back up would be a real danger in this country? to tourists, westerners, to everyone. to tourists, even to us, even for me, even for my family and the next generation, that's for sure, it will be a big problem. whether he comes back or not, thamer believes mohammed is lost forever. i've got his picture
with me all the time, i'm thinking about him all the time. because that's not the person i knew. i was losing my brother. i even... like, i raised him up. sorry. the tunisians say they are doing all they can to stop islamic state. but that doesn't always seem to be the case. take the suspects who admitted being involved in the attack at the bardo museum. we've discovered some of them are no longer behind bars. the tunisian authorities made much of their arrest of the cell behind the bardo attack just a week afterwards. but amazingly, members of that cell,
who had made apparently frank and detailed confessions, were later released on the quiet. the release happened two months after this sousse attack, officially because of allegations of torture. but francois and her lawyer believed the confessions were genuine. translation: their lawyers claim the defence of torture to get these presumed terrorist accomplices out. but their testimonies were matching and detailed, even though they were interrogated by police in different locations. we received information that the bardo suspects were released, in return for hostages held by the islamic state. we can't confirm that, but tunisian hostages were freed in libya around the same time. translation: i'm livid.
i just don't understand. why have they let the presumed accomplices go? if they were involved in the attack, they could strike again. we've set free ticking time bombs and this is unacceptable. we've also seen confessions from suspects picked up after the sousse attack. they show that one is cell organised both bardo and sousse. rezgui, the gunman who killed the british tourists, had close links with the bardo gang. he met them in cafes and mosques in tunis. he even trained with one of the bardo gunmen at an is camp in libya. and there's a final revelation in the confessions. the identity of the man who is alleged to have
masterminded both attacks. he is the tunisian called chamseddine al sandi. the suspects say he recruited them, paid them to go to libya for training and gave them their orders. if the confessions are accurate, then al sandi is responsible for the deaths of 60 people from around the world, including 31 british tourists at sousse and bardo, and he's still on the run. al sandi is believed to be in libya. this is the man that we believe was behind the bardo and sousse attacks and he is still at large. what would be the families' response, do you think? i've not seen that. if that's right and the families see that, they will be shocked to see the face of the man who caused them such terrible sadness. for all the victims
of bardo and sousse, there are still so many questions that need to be answered. translation: there are days when you feel completely exhausted, days when you want to abandon everything. and then there are days when you want to fight to get to the truth, so this doesn't happen again. i want to be able to go to my mother's grave and tell her, today we finally know what happened. for those who escaped with their lives, the trauma still affects everything they do. i struggle with crowds. i struggle with noise. you go out, you're constantly looking for somewhere to hide. so what do you think when you look at these now? i feel sad. it should have been a happy, relaxing time and it just turned
into a complete nightmare. it's destroyed us. sorry. no one will forget the horror caused by the gunman on the beach. but our investigation suggests more could have been done to protect tourists lives. a very warm welcome to bbc news, broadcasting to our viewers in north america and around the globe. my name is mike embley. our top stories: donald trump's choice to lead the cia talks tough on russia and defends america's spy agencies, hours after mr trump attacked them. i have seen their morale through tough times, where they have been challenged before, and i've seen them walk through fire to make
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