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Anti-terror probe of Tunisia opposition chief begins

By AFP
Tunisia Rached Ghannouchi, head of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party, arrives for questioning in July, 2022 in a separate anti-terrorist unit probe.  By FETHI BELAID AFPFile
SEP 20, 2022 LISTEN
Rached Ghannouchi, head of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party, arrives for questioning in July, 2022 in a separate anti-terrorist unit probe. By FETHI BELAID (AFP/File)

The leader of Tunisia's Islamist-inspired opposition party Ennahdha appeared Tuesday before an anti-terrorism unit, where he faces questioning over alleged involvement in sending jihadist militants to Syria and Iraq.

Ennahdha categorically denies the accusations levelled at its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, and Tunisia's former prime minister Ali Laarayedh, who was questioned for hours on Monday.

Ghannouchi, 81, arrived at the headquarters of the anti-terrorism unit in the capital Tunis, where dozens of his supporters had gathered in a show of solidarity, an AFP correspondent said.

The accusations have resurfaced after President Kais Saied tightened his grip on the judiciary, following the suspension of the Ennahdha-dominated parliament last year.

Ghannouchi had arrived at the headquarters of the anti-terrorism centre on Monday afternoon for questioning, according to an AFP reporter, several hours after his deputy Laarayedh.

"After more than 12 hours of waiting, Mr Ghannouchi wasn't heard by this unit which decided to delay the interrogation until midday Tuesday," his lawyer Samir Dilou told AFP.

Laarayedh was questioned "for hours" and was still being held by the unit, said Dilou.

In a statement released overnight, Ennahdha denounced the interrogation as "a flagrant violation of human rights".

Critics of the party and some politicians accuse Ennahdha of having facilitated the departure of militants for war zones.

After the 2011 overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, thousands of Tunisians joined the ranks of jihadist organisations -- most notably the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, but also in neighbouring Libya.

Ennahdha played a central role in Tunisia's post-Ben Ali democratic politics until Saied began his power grab in July last year, followed by a controversial referendum which granted unchecked powers to his office.

Ennahdha had on Sunday decried attempts "to use the judiciary to tarnish the opposition's image" and implicate its leaders in "fabricated affairs".

The probe against Ghannouchi and Laarayedh was meant to "distract the public" from dealing with economic and social issues and the "worsening conditions" in the country, the party said in its statement.

In July, the same anti-terrorism unit questioned Ghannouchi in a probe into allegations of corruption and money laundering linked to transfers from abroad to the charity Namaa Tunisia, affiliated with Ennahdha.

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