By Monia Ghanmi
Tunisia’s interior ministry on Saturday (September 15th) vowed to apprehend those involved in the Friday attack on the US embassy in Tunis.
“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.
Four people were killed and 49 injured when the American embassy in the Tunisian capital was attacked by mostly hardline Islamist protesters, the health ministry said.
The interviewer quizzed Aroui about a police raid on the home of Saif Allah bin Hussein (alias Abu Iyad), the leader of radical salafist group Ansar al-Sharia.
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.
More than 1,000 stone-throwing protesters gathered Friday outside the US embassy. They burnt a US flag and hurled rocks and insults at the police, accusing them of “protecting” those who denigrate Islam. Protestors also set fire to the American School in Tunis.
Tunisian Interim President Moncef Marzouki condemned the violent nature of protests.
“We could have understood and shared the anger of protesters if they had opted for a peaceful protest, which is a guaranteed right for every Tunisian citizen in our new democratic country. Yet acts of destruction, burning, and attempted attacks on the representatives of a friendly nation are not tolerated. These groups have crossed a red line,” he said in a televised address to the nation on Friday night.
Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalam denounced the film denigrating the Prophet Mohammed, but noted that American diplomats were not responsible for its broadcasting. There is no justification for attacking diplomats and embassies, he said.
Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi warned that the incident could damage the US-Tunisian relations and soil Tunisia’s image overseas. These extremist groups’ provocations have crossed the red line, he said.
The government must shoulder its responsibility in preventing this danger, which does not only threaten Tunisians’ rights and freedoms but its international relations, the Islamist party chief said.
The foreign ministry on Saturday stressed that relations of friendship and co-operation between Tunisia and the US would not be affected by “irresponsible acts that have nothing to do with the Tunisian people”.
For his part, Salafist Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesperson Ridha Belhaj asserted that the Friday protests were not organised by any party.
Meanwhile, Tunisians condemned the violence.
“Burning and looting the American school in Tunis is very shameful,” journalist Makki Helal told Magharebia. “What do schools and beacons of science have to do with politics?”
“We should have resorted to civilised and peaceful ways to respond to this film, which has provoked the Muslim nation’s feelings,” Zouhaeir Riahi said. “We should have avoided violence and sabotage that have nothing to do with our Islam and our Prophet’s morals.”
For her part, Karima Htira commented that lowering the American flag and replacing it with a black flag is a serious precedent that doesn’t honour the country.
“It’s true that the film insults Islamic sanctities and our Prophet, but we shouldn’t have resorted to violence because violence is not one of our Islamic values and morals,” she said.
The film stirs strife and animosity between adherents of different religions, said Achref Ltifi.
“However, we shouldn’t have been dragged to violence and spilling the blood of innocent people,” Ltifi added.