Monday, November 26, 2012

Tunisian Salafists Suspend Hunger Strike

The judiciary should be free from the pressure of "political parties, the media and social institutions" while dealing with the salafist file, the Tunisian justice minister says.
Two salafists arrested in connection with the September 14th US embassy attack were transferred to a Tunis hospital after suspending their hunger strike, AFP reported on Wednesday (November 21st).

Hassen Ben Brik and Ali Trabelsi decided to end their hunger strike in Mornaguia prison after a long discussion with a justice ministry representative, the ministry said in a communique.

Some 54 salafists suspended their protest last Sunday, according to TAP.

The news came a few days after two salafist inmates detained on the same charges had died in prison. Mohammed Bakhti was close to Abu Iyadh, the fugitive leader of radical salafist group Ansar al-Sharia and the alleged organiser of the embassy attack.

Bakhti died last Friday evening. Two days before, Bechir Golli had passed away after a 50-day hunger strike.

"We regret the death of any Tunisian," said Tunisian Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri. "We attempted many times to persuade them to stop the hunger strike but they refused."

"The suspects were arrested based on evidence from the judicial police and judicial investigations. Some of them were caught by police with Molotov cocktails in hand and stealing from the US embassy and the American school of Tunis," he added.

Bhiri also regretted "interference" in the judicial affairs from "many political parties, the media and social institutions".

"The situation has the line of putting pressure on judges through various manifestations of protest and propaganda designed to secure a certain decision," he said.

"Actors involved in the judicial system distance their decisions from political and personal disputes, and treat the cases independently, impartially and professionally. They are also asked to refrain from spreading rumours and disseminating unconfirmed information."

"An independent judiciary is also a judiciary free from the pressure of public opinion, media and political parties, as much as it is independent from the rest of the authorities," Bhiri explained.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki last Saturday called for an inquiry into the deaths of two salafist prisoners. Speaking at a Carthage conference organised by salafist Sheikh Bechir Ben Hassen, Marzouki noted, however, that the "state would not yield to blackmail through hunger strikes".

But the statements failed to calm civil society, with some activists and politicians calling for Bhiri's resignation.
"It is unacceptable to have Tunisians die in prison because of a hunger strike after the revolution," Wafa Party MP Azad Bady said.

Tunisian League for Human Rights chief Abdessatar Ben Moussa called "for the resignation of the minister of justice after holding him responsible for the death of two young salafists from a hunger strike".

Dozens demonstrated on November 6th in front of the justice ministry demanding the release of salafists jailed in connection with recent violence in the country, including the US embassy attack, the Abdellia Palace art show desecration, and the ransacking of Nessma TV.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tunisia Salafist chief calls for calm, warns of explosion

A Tunisian Salafist wanted for allegedly organising an attack on the US embassy called for calm yesterday, as troops and police deployed outside a flashpoint suburb of Tunis following deadly violence earlier this week.
But fugitive Abu Iyadh, chief of Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), warned that there could be another explosion of anger after two Salafists who took part in a Tuesday attack on police posts in the area lost their lives.

“It is possible that a lot of our youth will not be satisfied by an appeal for calm after the events in Douar Hicher,” Abu Iyadh said, referring to the quarter of the Manouba suburb.
“I call on you to heed the words of God and to rely upon patience and prayer,” the fugitive leader said in a video posted on the Internet.

But while calling for calm and highlighting what he said has been Salafist patience, Abu Iyadh warned the authorities of an “explosion of anger.”

“Our brothers who died as martyrs gave their lives for the Umma (worldwide Muslim community) … and you should be sure that the blood of our brothers will sooner or later bring about the installation of God’s law.”

Army, police and national guard vehicles and several dozen men deployed on roads leading to Douar Hicher before weekly Muslim prayers, and there were no reports of any unrest in the area.

Salafists, followers of a hardline branch of Sunni Islam, have used Friday prayers in the past to rally their faithful and carry out attacks.

One of those who lost his life this week was the imam of Manouba’s Ennour mosque. The man chosen by the congregation to succeed him, who does not have the government’s approval, declared war on the Islamist ruling party Ennahda during a television talk show on Thursday night.

“I am going to make war on these people because the interior minister and the leaders of Ennahda have chosen the United States as their god — it is the Americans who are writing the laws and the new constitution,” Nasreddine Aloui said in an appearance by video link on Ettounsiya television.

He urged the country’s youth to prepare their burial shrouds to fight against Ennahda, brandishing a white cloth himself and saying Ennahda and other parties want elections held on the “ruins and the bodies of the Salafist movement.”

Interior Minister Ali Larayedh and Human Rights Minister Samir Dilou, both members of Ennahda, were on the programme and replied sharply.

“This sort of talk is partly responsible for the bloodshed. You do not realise that your words are like bullets,” Larayedh said.

Dilou said: “You are not worthy to be an imam. This talk is an incitement to hatred.”

Religious Affairs Minister Nourredine el-Khadmi told a news conference on Friday that around 100 mosques in Tunisia were under the full control of Salafists. He rejected what he said was Aloui’s “call to violence.”

Abu Iyadh is wanted for organising an attack on the US embassy in September in which four of the assailants were killed.

Jailed under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, he was freed following the revolution that ousted the former president last year and became the key figure in the Tunisian jihadist movement.
He was involved in organising the September 9, 2001 assassination of the Afghan nationalist warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Since the revolution that ousted Ben Ali in January 2011, radical Islamists have carried out a number of attacks, including against security forces and on cultural events.

The opposition accuses the government of failing to rein in violence by Salafists, a hardline branch of Sunni Islam.

But the authorities have vowed to crack down on Islamist violence in the wake of the attack on the US mission.

Last month, Tunisia marked a year since its first free elections in a political climate of tensions within the national assembly and a stalled new constitution.

In June, voters are due to go to the polls to elect a new president and parliament.