TUNIS, July 26, 2013 (AFP)
TUNIS, July 26, 2013 (AFP)
Protests and a general strike swept Tunisia Friday after gunmen killed an opposition head with “the same gun” used to kill a colleague, as under-fire authorities pointed to Al-Qaeda links.
Mohamed Brahmi was gunned down with the same weapon used to kill another opposition politician, Chokri Belaid, six months earlier, Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said.
He said the main suspect in Brahmi’s killing was a member of the radical Sunni Muslim Salafist movement linked to Al-Qaeda.
“The first elements of the investigation show the implication of Boubaker Hakim, a Salafist extremist,” he said a day after Brahmi was gunned down outside his home near Tunis by two gunmen on a motorcycle.
The 30-year-old Paris-born suspect was already wanted in Tunisia for kidnapping and arms trafficking, the minister said.
Public security chief Mustapha Taieb Ben Amor named 14 radical Islamist suspects — including four behind bars — implicated in the two political killings.
Replying to a question, Ben Jeddou ruled out the involvement of political parties in the murders.
“The suspects are radical extremists, and some of them belong to Ansar al-Sharia,” the main Salafist group in Tunisia, he said.
Meanwhile, with many streets in the capital deserted, national airline Tunisair and European carriers cancelled flights, and fresh street protests were expected amid allegations of government connivance in Brahmi’s killing.
In rival shows of force, thousands of pro-government demonstrators held a solidarity rally in Tunis.
Brahmi, 58, an MP with the leftist and nationalist Popular Movement, was assassinated outside his home in Ariana, near Tunis, witnesses said.
The state prosecutor’s office said an autopsy found that Brahmi, whose family and political colleagues said would be buried as a “martyr” on Saturday, had been mowed down by a hail of 14 bullets.
Balkis Brahmi, 19, one of his five children, said her father was killed by two men in black on a motorbike.
“At around midday, we heard gunfire and my father crying with pain. We rushed out — my brother, mother and I — to find his body riddled with bullets at the wheel of his car parked in front of the house,” she told AFP.
As news of the killing spread, angry protesters took to the streets Thursday in both Tunis and Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of the Arab Spring and Brahmi’s hometown.
Police in Tunis fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who tried to set up a tent for a sit-in calling for the fall of the regime after the second such killing of a critic of the country’s Islamist leadership.
Tunisian newspapers forecast a breakdown of stability. “Rather than isolated acts, violence is being turned into a system. By whom? By people determined to seize power or to stay in power,” Le Quotidien said, pointing the finger of blame at the government led by the moderate Islamist movement Ennahda.
According to analyst Sami Brahem, “the reasons behind the assassination of Chokri Belaid are the same as those which led to the murder of Mohamed Brahmi: to bring about the failure of the democratic transition.”
Belaid’s February 6 assassination, also outside his home, sparked a political crisis and charges of Ennahda involvement.
Beji Caid Essebsi, head of the main opposition party Nidaa Tounes, said Ennahda was to blame because it had failed to identify Belaid’s killers.
“There has not been any serious judicial action,” he told AFP.
The General Union of Tunisian Labour (UGTT) called Friday’s general strike in protest at “terrorism, violence and murders”.
UGTT deputy secretary general Sami Tahri reported that all sectors nationwide were observing the strike, singling out banks, health services and most public transport.
Tunisia’s presidency told AFP Friday was being observed as a day of national mourning “following the assassination of lawmaker martyr Mohamed Brahmi”.
— Ennahda back in firing line —
Like after the Belaid murder, Ennahda was back in the firing line of accusations.
Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi rejected the charge in a statement to AFP, calling the killing “a catastrophe for Tunisia”.
“Those behind this crime want to lead the country towards civil war and to disrupt the democratic transition.”
Political tension has been rising in Tunisia, with the launch of its own version of the Tamarod (rebellion) movement in Egypt that led to the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on July 3.
The UN human rights office urged official restraint in the face of public anger.
“We urge the authorities in Tunisia to take great care not to inflame the situation further with excessive use of force and to respect the right of people to protest peacefully,” spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.
Brahmi was elected MP in October 2011 for Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of the revolution that year that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
On July 7, he resigned as general secretary of the Popular Movement, which he founded, saying it had been infiltrated by Islamists.