Britain tells citizens visiting Tunisia to leave, due to potential terror attack
Even though Tunisia has announced a state of emergency coming after a deadly assault on a beachfront resort last month, British officials don't feel enough has been done to ensure the safety of UK tourists.
The British government on Thursday told all UK tourists to leave Tunisia because a terrorist attack is "highly likely," saying the North African country's government has not done enough to enhance security.
The Foreign Office said it is advising against all but essential travel to the North African country. It said that British tourists in Tunisia should contact their travel agents, who will arrange flights to bring them home. Independent travelers were advised to return on scheduled commercial flights.
Thirty-eight tourists, 30 of them British, were killed on June 26 when a gunman stormed the Tunisian beach resort of Sousse. In March, 22 people died in an attack at the National Bardo Museum outside Tunis.
"While we do not have any information suggesting a specific or imminent threat, since the attack in Sousse the intelligence and threat picture has developed considerably leading us to the view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely," Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.
In a statement, his office said: "On balance, we do not believe the mitigation measures in place provide adequate protection for British tourists in Tunisia at the present time and we have therefore changed our travel advice accordingly."
Following the Sousse attack, Tunisian authorities on Saturday announced a state of emergency and enacted new security measures such as sending more than 1,300 security forces to patrol hotels, beaches and other tourist sites.
Hammond, speaking on the sidelines of talks about Iran's nuclear program in Vienna, said British authorities were in close contact with tour operators, who were arranging to get their customers home "as quickly as possible."
"To those travelling independently, our advice is to return on commercial flights which are operating normally," he added.
Travel company Thomas Cook said it would be bringing customers back on its 10 scheduled flights this weekend, and use other airlines if needed. Spokesman Ian Benjafield said the company would get people home "whatever way we can."
Tour firms Thomas Cook, Thomson and First Choice all canceled trips to Tunisia through Oct. 31.
The U.K. decision amounts to a major new blow to Tunisia's tourist industry. Hundreds of thousands of British tourists visit Tunisia each year. Many Britons left after the Sousse attack, but some 3,000 are still in Tunisia.
Germany's Foreign Ministry said it was observing the situation very closely and adjusting travel advice regularly.
As of now, however, there was no immediate change to its travel advice last updated five days ago. Two Germans were killed in the Sousse attack.
On its traveler's advice Web site, France's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday renewed its recommendation for French nationals in Tunisia to be "particularly vigilant" in the wake of the Sousse attack.
It stopped short of advising French nationals to return home. A ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment following the British Foreign Office statement.
Tunisia's hospitality industry has already felt a major impact.
At the Riu Palace Hammamet Marhaba in coastal Hammamet, southeast of Tunis, receptionist Hamdi Mohsen said that since the attack in Sousse, business is down like he's never seen before in his 34 years working at the resort.
"It's all because of Sousse," he said. He noted that the hotel now has only about 100 visitors, far short of the 800-850 person capacity — and no Britons at all. The hotel, which was nearly full in early June, tends to host about 300 Britons a day at this time of year, he said.