Magharebia (Washington DC)

11 January 2013

Tunisia Frees Benghazi Attack Suspect

Tunis — Some Tunisians fear that the release of the Benghazi attack suspect may embolden radical elements within the country.

A Tunis court this week conditionally freed Ali Harzi, a Tunisian suspected of involvement in the US consulate attack in Benghazi last September.

"The release was made in response to our demand because his file is clean, and also after US investigators questioned him as a witness in the case," his lawyer Anwar Oued-Ali said in response to the January 7th court ruling.

He emphasised that the defendant must remain in the Tunis area for any further questioning since the release was conditional.

Harzi was arrested last October in Turkey and handed over to Tunisia. Interior Minister Ali Larayedh then said in a television interview that Harzi was "strongly suspected to have been involved in the attack of Benghazi".

He had also been imprisoned in 2006 for "a desire to join jihad in Iraq" under the anti-terrorism law and released under the "general legislative pardon" after the Tunisian revolution.

His brother, Tarek Harzi is currently in an Iraqi prison in connection with terrorism charges.

Four FBI investigators questioned Harzi on December 21st at a Tunis district court.

They asked Harzi about Ansar al-Sharia leader Abou Iyadh, accused of links to the US consulate assault in Tunis, Abdelbasset Ben Mbarek, another member of Harzi's defence team, told AFP.

"If he had been implicated in the attack, he would not have been released," he said, adding that his client remained under judicial control because he was still charged with belonging to a terrorist group.

Some observers, however, fear that the move might embolden radical elements that threaten Tunisia's security.

It is a first step by the government to free other salafists accused of violent acts, commented rights activist Moncef Khabir. He suggested that the release might be part of a plan to court salafist voters in the next election.

"They should have released, for example, Sami Fehri who has already had a release order issued from the appeal court," Khabir said.

The Ettounsiya TV director was jailed last August after his station aired a satirical puppet show that mocked members of the Ennahda-led government.

"Releasing a dangerous person with a record may threaten the country's security," Khabir added. "This comes in the framework of the executive authority going off its original course to satisfy its future political needs."

Tunisian citizen Maher Jouini commented that young people should avoid "bellicose speech that is hostile to the West" because it "produces injustice and terrorism that tarnishes the image of Islam and gives pretexts for sowing hostility and hatred".

"Islam has nothing do with attacks on ambassadors or non-Muslim seekers of protection," he added. "Wisdom lies in following the example of the Prophet and winning hearts and minds through good manners."

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