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Some Tourists Show Solidarity With Tunisia After Beach Attack


Some tourists are sticking with their vacation plans in Tunisia, despite a mass shooting on a beach there Friday. Thirty-eight people were killed, most of them tourists. Authorities today said they've arrested several people who may have been accomplices to the gunman in that attack. They're investigating for links to extremist groups. While many foreigners have left the country, NPR's Alice Fordham talked to some on the beach who are determined to stay.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Today, Simon Laight is relaxing by the sea, but he was a little annoyed last Friday, on the first day of his vacation, when he had to join a work conference call instead of strolling along the beach with his wife.

SIMON LAIGHT: So I was actually in our room waiting for the conference call to start when I heard the explosion.

FORDHAM: If he'd taken that stroll, he would have been outside the Imperial Marhaba hotel when the gunmen opened fire there, killing more than 18 Brits. As it was, he heard gunfire and watched, stunned, from his bedroom window as armed police and helicopters arrived. And he was impressed by the Tunisian hotel staff, whom he saw later on video.

LAIGHT: Unarmed, like, waiters and bartenders, like, you know, chasing down an armed terrorist. So it doesn't get much braver than that.

FORDHAM: He says the tour company was disorganized about sending him and his wife and friends home. But in the end, he was happy to stay because he wanted to support Tunisians.

LAIGHT: It's an act of defiance against the terrorists. I very much don't want them to win, and, yeah - and a message of support to all of the Tunisians. They've been absolutely amazing people.

FORDHAM: His sentiments are echoed by Rosalind Rowe, a semi-retired chauffeur from the south of England, reading a novel and wearing a floral swimsuit.

ROSALIND ROWE: Yes, they treat us lovely, all these people around here.

FORDHAM: She was on a camel tour when shots began ringing out and says the guides hustled the tourists into their own homes to protect them. Her friend went home, but she's happy she stayed.

ROWE: There's loads of police here, loads of security. I've been on the beach the last three days - absolutely fine.

FORDHAM: And they're by no means the only foreigners on the beach. Even as European and Tunisian officials somberly laid flowers on small, sandy memorials today, people were swimming, drinking beer, having fun. Their presence is appreciated by the many people in the town of Sousse who work in tourism. At the peaceful and beautiful citadel, I visit the museum, full of intricate mosaics nearly 2,000 years old. Employee Izmatar Hamadi shows me around. He's especially proud of the mosaics in a baptismal font made by Tunisia's ancient Christians. He wants to show people the country has a diverse history and welcomes people of every faith.

IZMATAR HAMADI: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Hamadi says, "you can clearly see the cross, the alpha and the omega, the beginning of life and the end of life." He's worried about his industry, but the foreigners on the beach give him hope.

HAMADI: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: He says, "it gives us confidence because we see on the beach some British, some French, some Italians. These are brave men." Alice Fordham, NPR News, Sousse, Tunisia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.