A gunman who shot and killed 38 people at a Tunisian beach resort on Friday, most of them British tourists, was “laughing and joking” as he mowed down his victims, UK media reported Saturday, quoting eyewitness reports.
One man told Tunisian radio station Mosaique FM “He was laughing and joking around, like a normal guy. He was choosing who to shoot.
“Some people, he was saying to them, ‘You go away,'” the witness said. “He was choosing tourists, British, French.”
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, and posted a picture of the man who it said carried out the killings, Seifeddine Yacoubi.
As more information on victims and survivors of the harrowing attack emerged — with most of the dead said by Tunisian authorities to be Britons — UK press hailed as a hero Welshman Matthew James who jumped in front of his fiancee to shield her from the shooter and took three bullets, but survived.
“He took a bullet for me. I owe him my life because he threw himself in front of me when the shooting started,” 26-year-old Saera Wilson said of her partner, a 30-year-old gas engineer.
“He was covered in blood from the shots, but he just told me to run away,” she told the BBC.
The carnage in Tunisia began on the beach, where tourists described hearing what sounded like fireworks and then running for their lives when they realized it was gunfire. Video of the aftermath showed medics using beach chairs as stretchers to carry away people in swimsuits.
“He had a parasol in his hand. He went down to put it in the sand and then he took out his Kalashnikov and began shooting wildly,” Rafik Chelli, the secretary of state of the Interior Ministry, said.
He then entered the pool area of the Imperial Marhaba hotel before moving inside, killing people as he went.
British tourist Gary Pine told AP he was on the beach with his wife around noon when heard the shooting. They shouted for their son to get out of the water, grabbed their bag and ran for the hotel. Their son told them he saw someone shot on the beach.
There was “sheer panic” at the hotel, Pine said. “There were a lot of concerned people, a few people in tears with panic and a few people — older guests — they’d turned their ankles or there was a few little minor injuries and nicks and scrapes.”
Elizabeth O’Brien, an Irish tourist who was with her two sons, told Irish Radio she was on the beach when the shooting began.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God. It sounds like gunfire,’ so I just ran to the sea to my children and grabbed our things” before fleeing to their hotel room, she said.
Briton Olivia Leathley, 24, heard “loud bangs” and when she went to the lobby to find out what was happening, she saw a woman whose husband had “been shot in the stomach in front of her”.
“All she said was that he’d been shot and that he was there bleeding on the beach and he was just saying, ‘I love you, I love you’, and then his eyes rolled back into his head.”
AP and AFP contributed to this report.