Tunisia jails jihadist over call to join rebels in Syria

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Tunisia has jailed an Islamist militant on suspicion of incitement to terrorism after he called on television for young compatriots to join the armed uprising in Syria, a justice ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

He said Abu Zaid Tounsi issued the call after returning from a stint with rebels fighting in Syria, heightening fears of young men coming home radicalized from battle there jeopardizing security in their North African homeland.

President Moncef Marzouki last month likened young Tunisians returning from service in Syria’s increasingly Islamist insurrection to Algerians who joined a 1990s insurgency against their government after fighting in Afghanistan.

Tunisian media say thousands of young Tunisians recruited by shadowy networks are fighting in Syria’s two-year-old civil war.

“An investigative judge ordered the jailing of Abu Zaid Tounsi after an investigation opened against him on anti-terrorism grounds,” the justice ministry spokesman said.

He said Abu Zaid was expected to face trial in the next few weeks on charges of incitement to terrorism.

The case arose from an interview Abu Zaid gave on a local television channel last week in which he urged Tunisians to join jihad (holy struggle) in Syria and said he has no regrets about going there to fight.

His remarks drew strong criticism from opposition secularist parties who accused Tunisia’s government, led by moderate Islamists, of staying silent on the matter and doing little to stop attempts to lure Tunisians to the rebel cause in Syria.

Tunisia was the launch pad in 2011 of a series of popular uprisings against entrenched autocrats across the Arab world, with the longest and bloodiest raging on in Syria.

Moderate Islamists who came to the fore after the fall of Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali two years ago subsequently won a free election and the government last year expelled the Assad government’s ambassador to Tunis.

But concern has risen about radical jihadist endangering ashaky Islamist-secularist balance in Tunisia. A fugitive Islamist leader threatened last week to overthrow Tunisia’s government, a day after the prime minister accused him of smuggling weapons into the North African state.

Last week Tunisian authorities launched an investigation into networks said to be recruiting young men to join radical Islamist units in the rebel forces battling to topple Assad.

Tunisia on Monday imposed curbs on travel to neighboring lawless Libya by men under 20 years of age because of concern they were continuing on to Syria to join Islamist insurgents.