Local hero begs tourists to forgive Tunisia

Tunisian hotel worker describes heroic acts
Tunisian hotel worker describes heroic acts

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Story highlights

  • Abdul Ali Ladhari worked on the beach in Tunisia where a gunman massacred tourists
  • Ladhari says the killer told him that he was only targeting Europeans
  • A man died in the Tunisian's arms, but he never learned the victim's name

Sousse, Tunisia (CNN)Abdul Ali Ladhari and his friends waited 45 minutes before the police finally arrived. He's sure, he says, because he watched every minute drag by on his phone, unwilling to believe that help still hadn't come.

While waiting, they did what they could.
"We went and covered up the tourists that died -- God rest their souls -- and waited, terrified, in complete chaos. We were scared that -- God forbid -- there might be a second shooter. It was all just a mess," he says.
    Ladhari works at a beach shack, renting Jet Skis and parachute rides to tourists.
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    He'd only had the job a month when he watched Saif Al-Deen Al Rezgui open fire Friday on tourists sunning themselves on the beach loungers.
    Ladhari says the shouts of a female tourist alerted him to what was happening.
    "She said, 'He has a gun -- help us!' "
    He watched as she fell to the ground, struck by a round of gunfire.

    'We couldn't back off'

    Ladhari pulls out pictures that he and his friends took of the covered bodies.
    They tried to give the victims back their dignity -- to shield them, even if was already too late, he says.
    As the chaos erupted all around, he and his friends came face to face with the killer.
    "We men ran toward him. He said, 'I don't have any issue with Arabs. My targets are the Europeans.' "
    They kept running toward the gunman, Ladhari says: "We moved quicker! We couldn't leave him! Yes, we were scared. Terrified. But we couldn't back off."
    Many of the European tourists caught in the violence that day have spoken about the bravery of the Tunisians.
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    In amateur footage of the attack, the cameraman and others can be heard rushing toward the shooter, desperate to stop the rampage. But of course they couldn't.
    Ladhari says all he could do for many of the victims was keep them company through their last moments.

    A witness to carnage

    One British grandfather died in Ladhari's arms.
    "He asked me, 'Is my wife dead?' I checked her pulse. I said, 'Yes, she is.' A tear ran down his cheek. He thanked God that she hadn't suffered. Then he died."
    Ladhari never found out the man's name.
    Lifting his shirt, he shows where the killer jammed the butt of a machine gun at him as he tried to shield another couple.
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    While falling, Ladhari watched a little boy shot at point-blank range.
    He looks away as he recalls the horror.
    As people around the world struggle to understand why, Ladhari says he wishes he had some answers.
    "He killed them. He destroyed them, and he destroyed us with them," he says.
    Sousse was one of Tunisia's main tourist destinations. Now it sits half-empty.
    Ladhari asks if tourists will ever return.
    Or if they'll ever forgive Tunisia. He hopes they can find it in their hearts to do so.