Magharebia (Washington DC)

Tunisia Arrests Salafist Imam

Tunis — Tunisian security forces Tuesday (November 6th) arrested outspoken salafist imam Bilel Chaouachi on charges of incitement to violence.

"Bilel Chaouachi is suspected of involvement in the September 14 events of the attack on the embassy and the American school, but before that there is another case pending against him for incitement to violence," Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche told Kapitalis.

Chaouachi, a member of the salafist Ansar al-Sharia group, was arrested Tuesday after he performed noon prayers at Ras Tabia mosque in a poor neighbourhood of Tunis, his friend Mohamed Amin Rehali told reporters.

The 26-year-old's arrest coincided with fiery takfirist statements he made on Ettounsiya TV Monday evening on the "9 PM" talk show. He railed against Tunisian politicians who reject the idea of applying Sharia law and praised al-Qaeda's leaders.

"We will not apologise to the interior ministry," Chaouachi said on Ettounsiya, days after salafists attacked police posts in Manouba. "Nine of our salafists brothers were martyred since Ali Larayedh took the reins of the interior ministry because they professed the good word. This did not even happen under Ben Ali. Since Noureddine Bhiri took over the justice ministry, 900 salafists have been arrested."

"We, the jihadist salafist movement with our scholars and theoreticians headed by Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him, and Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, may God protect him, say that this country is a land of preaching and not a land of war, even when it is not ruled according to Islamic law," Chaouachi continued.

But Tarrouche said Chaouachi's arrest had "nothing to do with his appearance or speech on TV", adding that it was "a simple coincidence".

Following the arrest, Chaouachi's mother appeared in a video released by a salafist group where she angrily denounced the Ennahda-led government and attacked the democratic process.

Responding the interior minister's declaration that salafists needed to obey the rules of democracy, she said that democracy was "kufr".

The Islamist al-Nusra group also issued a statement following Chaouachi's arrest, claiming that salafists were subject to "arbitrary arrests and collective punishment at the hands of security forces reminiscent of the former regime's practices".

"We strongly condemn any harassment of Islamic awakening youth in an arbitrary way without any clear evidence to their involvement in acts of violence," it added.

But on the Tunisian street, many welcomed the arrest of extremists.

"The government has been lax in confronting those radicals; something that made them accuse Tunisians and those who have different opinion of kufr, and also incite for violence, such as the case of Bilel Chaouachi who shocked us by wishing mercy for Osama bin Laden whom he considered to be his idol, and by wishing long life to Ayman al-Zawahiri," Mahdi Aloui, 32, told Magharebia.

In her turn, Sondes Abbasi, 29, told Magharebia, "The government has failed to absorb the young people who embrace extremist ideas."

She noted that "most of those people are from poor popular neighbourhoods and their deteriorating social conditions have been a main cause for their trends".

"It's about time the law was applied," Mourad Snoussi said. "Anyone who violates the system of the republic must leave Tunisia. I'm also surprised with the growth of jihadists in Tunisia; who will they wage jihad against? Their Muslim brothers?"

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