Middle East

Islamist leader threatens to oust Tunisian Prime Minister

Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh (R) shakeshands with Germany's Foreign Affairs Minister Guido Westerwelle on March 19, 2013, in Tunis. Westerwelle is on a day official visit to Tunisia. (AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID)

Tunis: The fugitive leader of a radical Islamist group threatened on Wednesday to overthrow Tunisia's government, one day after the prime minister accused him of smuggling weapons into the North African country.

Saif-Allah Benahssine, leader of radical Islamists Ansar al-Sharia, said in a statement on its web page that he would topple Prime Minister Ali Larayedh and throw him into the "dustbin of history" if the government interfered with the group.

Larayedh told French daily Le Monde on Tuesday that Benahssine, whose Salafist organisation wants to impose a puritanical form of Islam, was responsible for smuggling in weapons seized by security forces.

Security forces have clashed several times in recent months with militants trying to bring weapons from Algeria and Libya.

Police also seized two big weapons caches in the capital Tunis last month. Last December, Laryedh said police arrested 16 Islamist militants who had been hoarding arms with the aim of creating an Islamic state.

Wednesday's statement was the first time that Benahssine has threatened to overthrow the government.

Also known as Abu Iyadh, Benahssine is wanted by police for allegedly inciting an attack on the U.S. embassy in September. Four people were killed in the disturbances, which began as a protest over a film that mocked the Prophet Mohammed.

The government is led by the moderate Islamic Ennahda Movement, which won the country's first free elections on October 2011 following Tunisia's revolution, the first of the "Arab Spring" revolts.

Tunisian police blamed a Salafist for the assassination of secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid on February 6, which provoked the biggest street protests in Tunisia since the overthrow of strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali two years ago.

Salafists want a broader role for religion, alarming secular elites who fear they seek to impose their strict views at the expense of individual freedoms, women's rights and democracy.

President Moncef Marzouki also said last week that young Tunisians who return home after fighting in the war in Syria were a threat to security.





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