Tunisia to 'punish' US embassy attackers: official

By AFP
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By AFP

9/15/2012 7:50:02 PM -

TUNIS (AFP) - Tunisia's interior ministry threatened on Saturday to punish all those involved in Friday's US embassy attack, as police hunted the leader of a hardline jihadist group.

"Anyone closely or marginally involved in the events outside the American embassy in Tunis will be punished," national security spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui said in an interview with Mosaique FM radio.

Four people were killed and 49 injured when the American embassy in the Tunisian capital was attacked by mostly hardline Islamist protesters angry over an anti-Islam film made in the United States, the health ministry said.

The interviewer quizzed Aroui on a police raid on the home of Saif Allah bin Hussein (alias Abu Iyad), the leader of radical Salafist Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia -- supporters of Sharia (Islamic law).

Aroui avoided comment on the raid, but an associate of Abu Iyad confirmed the swoop in a suburb of Tunis. "Police came to Abu Iyad's residence on Friday night, but did not arrest him as he was not there," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche said 75 arrests had been made, and that "further searches are taking place to bring in more suspects," without identifying any of them.

On Saturday, clashes broke out between youths and Salafists in a western Tunis suburb that is a bastion for local Islamists, a witness told AFP. The youths "threw stones at Salafists, who fled," the resident said.

Buses were damaged and traffic came to a halt, and police at the scene did not intervene, they added.

The ruling Islamist Ennahda party accused some "offensive groups" of hijacking Friday's peaceful protest against the American anti-Islam film.

"These groups use young people to try and impose by force (their) worldview on society, rejecting all laws and institutions," Interior Minister Ali Larayedh, a member of Ennahda, said.

Ennahda is regularly accused by the opposition and NGOs of complacency in the face of Salafist violence.

Violent clashes broke out on Friday between security forces and protesters, most of them appearing to be Salafists, who were protesting over the film.

Some protesters hurled petrol bombs and then stormed the sprawling US embassy complex in Tunis before police fired live rounds and tear gas to drive them away.

A nearby American school was also ransacked and set on fire, along with several parked vehicles.

Tunis said on Saturday that the "irresponsible actions" of the demonstrators would not affect its relations with Washington.

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By: hettie