REPATRIATIONS of Britons killed by a gunman in last week’s Tunisian beach massacre are expected to begin on Wednesday, Downing Street has said.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokeswoman said that 21 Britons have been “positively identified” as victims of the murder spree, while another nine UK nationals are believed to be among the dead.
All wounded Britons have now been brought back to the UK, with four severely injured holidaymakers flown home in an RAF C17 transport plane accompanied by “medevac” teams.
The four injured people are being treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, Derriford Hospital in Plymouth and St Mary’s Hospital in London, said Number 10.
Mr Cameron addressed senior ministers at Cabinet about the UK’s response to last Friday’s atrocity, when a total of 38 people died after 23-year-old student Seifeddine Rezgui opened fire in the resort of Sousse, and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was this afternoon chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee.
The Government is “working closely” with the families of those killed in Sousse, and has offered to arrange for the bodies of their loved ones to be flown by RAF plane to Brize Norton in Oxfordshire before being transported on to their home areas, Downing Street said. Families who opt to make their own arrangements may make use of other airports.
The repatriation process is expected to take a number of days.
A joint inquest covering all of the British victims of the bloodbath is to be opened by the West London coroner.
Mr Cameron has announced that a minute’s silence will be held in memory of the victims at noon on Friday, a week after the outrage. Downing Street said that flags will be flown at half-mast over Whitehall departments that day.
The Prime Minister spoke yesterday with Tunisia’s ambassador in London about what assistance Britain can give the north African country to improve security and strengthen its democratic system.
Some 27 UK experts from the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and police are currently in Tunisia working on security, said the PM’s spokeswoman.
Mr Cameron, who last night spoke to US President Barack Obama about the attack, has promised a “full spectrum” response to extremist terror, warning that the threat posed by the emergence of IS is “the struggle of our generation”.
He today spoke with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, at least three of whose compatriots were among the dead. Mr Cameron’s spokeswoman said they agreed that the outrage had reinforced the need for governments to work together to tackle Islamist extremists and support democratic nations like Tunisia.
Authorities in Tunisia are continuing to quiz seven suspected associates of the gunman. They have said Rezgui acted alone during the rampage but had accomplices who supported him before, providing him with weapons and logistical support. Some 80 unregulated mosques believed to preach radical doctrines have been closed.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said an investigation was under way into security failures and there would now be armed tourist police on beaches.
The president said that heightened security had been planned from July 1 to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but that attacks on sunbathing tourists had not been anticipated.
Mr Essebsi told Europe 1 radio: “It is not a perfect system - it is true we were surprised by this affair. They took measures for the month of Ramadan but never did they think the attack would be on the beaches against tourists and the system of protection was set to start July 1.”
He said Tunisia needed help in securing its borders, particularly with Libya, a haven for supporters of the radical Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for the attack.
British tourists staying in the north African country claimed they saw a second man carrying a gun and roaming the resort.
Meanwhile possible connections to extremism in the UK have emerged.
The gunman was linked to Saifallah Ben Hassine, a fanatic who was based in London for at least three years and a disciple of the cleric Abu Qatada, the Daily Mail reported today.
A key strand of the Government’s strategy to counter extremism comes into force on Wednesday. New legislation passed earlier this year places a statutory duty on bodies including prisons, schools and universities to prevent radicalisation.
Today police, soldiers, emergency services and intelligence officials are taking part in London’s largest counter-terrorism exercise, testing the response to a mass firearms attack in the capital.
Meanwhile, further tributes have been paid to victims of the attack.
A football club said it was “deeply shocked and saddened” by the death of one of its former players and his wife.
Former Birmingham City Football Club player Denis Thwaites and his wife Elaine are reported to have been killed in the attack.
Relatives of a 24-year-old graduate who was killed paid tribute to her as a “shining light” who radiated happiness to those around her.
In a statement, the fiance and immediate family of Carly Lovett said they were praying that the “evil” seen in Tunisia would end to spare others the heartbreak they have experienced.
A 52-year-old man who flew to Tunisia with his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary has been confirmed dead, his family said.
Philip Heathcote, who lived in Felixstowe, Suffolk, and was originally from Manchester, had been missing feared dead since Friday.
His wife, Allison Heathcote, 48, is in an induced coma after also being shot on the beach. The couple were due to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary today.