Gunmen killed at least 37 people, including foreign tourists, spraying them with bullets at a Tunisian beachside hotel in the popular resort of Sousse on Friday, officials said.
Security forces quickly responded and killed one of the gunmen who held a Kalashnikov assault rifle, but another attacker fled and was being pursued by police, said interior ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui.
"A terrorist infiltrated the buildings from the back before opening fire on the residents of the hotel, including foreigners and Tunisians," Aroui said.
The attack, which took place during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, was the second major attack in the North African country this year. Tunisia has been on high alert since March when Islamist militant gunmen attacked the Bardo museum in Tunis, killing 22 people.
Tunisia, which has been hailed as a model of democratic transition since its 2011 'Arab Spring' uprising, is one of the most secular countries in the Arab world. Its beach resorts and nightclubs on the Mediterranean are popular with European visitors.
In an address from the Elysée Palace on Friday, French President François Hollande said he could not confirm if there were French nationals among the victims of the terror attack.
No one immediately claimed the attack. But Islamist jihadists have targeted North African tourist sites before, seeing them as legitimate targets because of their open Western lifestyles and tolerance of alcohol.
Several thousand Tunisian fighters have left for Syria, Iraq and neighbouring Libya, where some have set up jihadist training camps and promised to return to attack their homeland.
At least five British nationals were killed in the attack, the British Foreign Secretary has confirmed, warning that the number could rise.
Irish, German and Belgian nationals were also among those killed in Friday’s attack, the Tunisian health ministry said in a statement.
Photographs circulating on social media showed Western tourists lying face down near sun loungers.
'Run, run, run!'
Irishwoman Elizabeth O'Brien, who was staying at a neighbouring hotel with her two sons, said there was panic on the beach when gunfire erupted.
"I honestly thought it was fireworks and then when I saw people running... I thought, my God, it is shooting," she told Irish radio station RTE. "The waiters and the security on the beach started to say 'Run, run, run!'"
British tourist Gary Pine said he was on the beach and heard what "we thought was firecrackers going off" 100 yards away, followed by an explosion from the next hotel complex.
"There was a mass exodus off the beach," he told Sky News.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-06-26