Tunisia Steps Up Security as Sousse Mourns ISIS Attack Victims

by Charlene Gubash, Chapman Bell and Kelly Cobiella /  / Updated 

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SOUSSE, Tunisia — Makeshift memorials dotted this seaside resort town on Sunday as Tunisian officials deployed hundreds of extra police to guard tourist sites following a massacre on the north African nation's beach.

At least 39 people — mostly British, German and Belgian vacationers — were killed when a gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire on beachgoers in Sousse on Friday.

Flowers and candles dotted the beach on Sunday, where two days earlier sun loungers were turned into makeshift stretchers for the wounded in the attack for which ISIS claimed responsibility.

"We will never forget you," read one handwritten message placed in the sand, as armed police patrolled the beach on ATVs and boats offshore waved Tunisian flags.

Crowds gathered in front of the Imperial Marhaba Hotel — the site of the attack — chanting "with heart and blood we sacrifice for our flag." Below their feet, the sand was still bloodied.

As the community reeled, the imam of Sousse's second-largest mosque stressed how the attack ran counter to Islamic principles.

"Islam is a religion of peace and these terrorists are destroying its image," the young imam, Juma Yassin Kidary, told NBC News ahead of the special Ramadan prayer.

Tunisia's Interior Minister Mohamed Najem Gharsalli said 1,000 extra police were being deployed at tourist sites and beaches in the North African nation.

"We don't want to make tourist establishments into barracks, that's not our goal. But we must act to guarantee the security of the tourist sector," he said late Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

Tunisia's tourism industry — already grappling with fallout from the deadly terror attack in March at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis — suffered a further blow from Friday's violence.

Sousse's tourism commissioner Saloua Kadri told Reuters that more than 3,000 foreigners had fled the town on Saturday — and many more were awaiting flights out.

"We don't feel safe," Briton Sarah Maeson told Reuters at Ennfida airport.

Mahdin Zidani, 40, was on the beach when the attacker opened fire. He said he plans to see a therapist to help cope with the trauma of that day, but was certain he and his nation would heal.

"It is an accident, it can happen in any country, it happened in France and Kuwait," he told NBC News. "We will not give up, we will continue working and everything will come back to normal."

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