Tunis — Tunisia launched a judicial investigation Monday (March 25th) into networks recruiting the nation's youth to fight in Syria. The public prosecutor urged all those who have information on the issue to provide it to the authorities.
The investigation was opened after Tunisian families demonstrated opposite the Constituent Assembly earlier this month to demand the authorities bring their sons back home and put an end to the networks that recruit young people for jihad in Syria.
Prosecutors are also launching a parallel investigation into a Tunisian identified only as "Abou Zeid Ettounsi", al-Chourouk reported Wednesday (March 27th). The Islamist stands accused of inciting a terrorist act after he allegedly used a TV appearance on Ettounsiya to call for fighting in Syria.
Tunisian authorities have given no official figures on the number of Tunisian Islamists fighting in Syria, but according to the web pages of jihadist movements, dozens have been killed in the past two years, AFP reported.
Given the seriousness of the issue, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said that the government plans to follow up on the file of Tunisians who fight in Syria. He added that many young Tunisians were prevented from leaving the country through the Tunisian-Libyan border because they were planning to go to Syria to join the armed opposition.
"In response to pleas from families and relatives, we've prevented Tunisian young people from going for uncalculated adventures," Larayedh told France24 on Saturday.
Larayedh said that although he realised the seriousness of this issue, the authorities just could not legally prevent citizens from travelling.
"There are Tunisians who travel to another country, such as Libya or Turkey, under the pretext of work or tourism, and then go to Syria," he said. "However, we don't have the right to prevent them from leaving."
"Although we've prevented some whom we believed would likely go into an adventure of uncalculated consequences based on information from families, we can't legally prevent any citizen who says he is leaving for work or tourism in another country in spite of the danger and tragedy of this issue," he continued.
He also confirmed that the authorities would be keen to follow up on this file from its humanitarian, social and security aspects.
For its part, the Constituent Assembly has also highlighted the phenomenon. Members stressed the need for the Tunisian authorities to shoulder their responsibility in revealing the entities and parties involved in recruiting Tunisian young people and sending them to Syria for jihad.
The recruitment of Tunisian young people for jihad in Syria is "a sin against the young people and the Tunisian people", according to MP Mahmoud al-Baroudi. He also called for dealing firmly with this phenomenon.
Opposition figures have accused the Ennahda-led government of knowing about the recruitment networks that send Tunisian young people to Syria for jihad and hiding their identity. However, Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi has denied these accusations.
"The Tunisian young people are just travelling to Syria to take part in jihad, but we're not a party, have not been a party, to this operation which we don't know how it proceeds," Ghannouchi said March 15th.
In a speech marking Independence Day on March 20th, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki warned of the negative impact of the presence of Tunisians engaged in jihad in Syria.
"We fear that those Tunisians will return to pose a threat to their own country," he said. "They must be persuaded that the real jihad in their own country is combating poverty, unemployed and ignorance."
Since the conflict broke out in Syria, a number of jihadists from the Maghreb, particularly Tunisia and Libya, have joined the fight against the regime in response to extremists' calls.
In Tunisia, the Ministry of Women's Affairs and Family said in a statement issued late last February that there had been "many disappearances of teenagers, after specialised networks targeting young people and children of both genders appeared to recruit them through intellectual and doctrinal mobilisation".