Al Arabiya inquiry reveals how Tunisia’s Ben Ali escaped to Saudi Arabia
On January 14, 2011, the most critical moments in Tunisia’s modern history and the subsequent facts of the moments were woven behind the scenes and in the corridors of the Tunisian authority, from lowly to lofty positions. This historic date was the spark that drew the red lines on the region’s map, a region that entered a new chapter entitled: The Revolution.
That day witnessed by the Tunisian people reintroduced questions about the reasons that forced the former president, Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali, to leave his palace, and then his country, like a fugitive.
The story takes place in Tunis, the country’s capital, and in many other Tunisian cities, but its events primarily occur in the ruling authority’s decision-making headquarters: the presidential palace in Carthage, the former president’s residence in Sidi Bou Said, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, al-Habib Bourguiba avenue in the Capital, the Tunis-Carthage International Airport and the military barracks of Aounia, site of the military airbase, and the governmental palace in El Kasba.
It all began at 8 a.m. on that morning, when the then-president Ben Ali arrived at his office in the presidential Palace of Carthage, with the ministers of interior and defense and the country’s prime minister, Mohammed al-Ghannoushi.
At the same time, a few demonstrators were gathering in Habib Burguiba Avenue in front of the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior, headed by the human rights activist and lawyer Radiya al-Nassrawi, who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and who was demanding the release of her husband, the leader of the communist workers’ party, who was incarcerated in the building housing the Interior ministry.
At around 11 that morning the situation worsened. The then-president was receiving conflicting reports and information that he would not be blamed for considering threatening.
The events reached a climax at around 1 p.m.: the protestors outside the palace now numbered about 70,000, and security was breaking down across the city. Demonstrators had set the police and national guard stations on fire. Then, inmates in the prison in the capital and other cities began to rebel … this all resulted in a near total breakdown of the already strained Tunisian security forces, which had for more than a month been dealing with a taxing situation.
Under these circumstances, Ben Ali president decided to send his wife, his son Mohammed and his daughter Halima to Jeddah to perform Umrah, the pilgrimage to Mecca. And indeed, the presidential chief of protocol urgently started preparing for the trip, since the president was not intending to leave the country at the time. The president’s wife had received a notice from her husband asking her to pack her bags and leave for Jeddah. Concurrently, the security services received conflicting information about a potential helicopter attack on the presidential palace, and an attack from sea.
In the midst of these events, during which the presidential palace was awash in panic and terror, the Tunis-Carthage International Airport, and specifically the VIP lounge, which is used by the most imminent personalities, witnessed a watershed in the story’s events.
Colonel Samir Tarhouni of Tunisia’s anti-terrorism brigade and his team broke into the airport and prevented the Trabelsi Family, Ben Ali’s in laws, from leaving the country. Tarhouni took this initiative without the permission of his superiors in the Ministry of the Interior, so his actions were considered as rebellion.
Meanwhile, the president’s wife arrived at the palace to bid farewell to her husband; however, in the midst of the panic and terror in the palace, the former president suddenly insisted on accompanying them to the military barracks in order to secure their departure. Afterward, the presidential convoy, which consisted of nine cars, one of which was driven by Ben Ali’s wife, Leila, along with his son, arrived at the military barracks in Aounia. The president exited the car, which was parked in front of the presidential plane that was refueling in the hangar.
It was at that precise moment that the president decided to travel to Jeddah with the intention of accompanying his family and then coming back home. The plane took off, escorted by armored cars on the runway.
In the meantime, the news of the president’s departure spread among the security services, especially the presidential guard.
Colonel Sami Sik Salem, in charge of protecting the palace, called the prime minister, Mohammed al-Ghannoushi, and pleaded with him to come to the presidential palace to fill the power void left in the country. Accordingly, the prime minister, as well as the speakers of the parliament and their advisors, arrived at the palace.
A statement was issued decreeing that the prime minister had assumed power as an interim president, in accordance with chapter 56 of the Tunisian constitution. Throughout that night and during the flight to Jeddah, a series of calls were made between the president, the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, General Rashid Ammar. Ultimately, in an overnight meeting held in the headquarters of the ministry of Interior, it was decided to bar the president from returning to Tunisia.
Thus, the presidential plane’s pilot was ordered to return home without the president on board.
Among the protagonists who participated in this historical day:
•Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia since 1987
•Leila Bin Ali, the president’s wife, who was targeted with her family by the protests because of serious financial corruption widely acknowledged inside and outside Tunisia. Her family’s residences were set on fire and were looted, and her brother, Belhassen Trabelsi, fled by sea to Malta on the same day.
•General Ali Seriati, Presidential Security Chief. He played a pivotal role in the events of the story.
•Ridha Grira, the Tunisian Defense Minister, who played a major role in the events and adopted mysterious stances in several situations.
•General Rashid Ammar, the Chief of Staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, who was widely popular in Tunisia.
•Mohammed al-Ghannoushi, prime Minister. He assumed the role of interim president for a couple of hours and then handed over power to the speaker of the house of the representatives, in line with chapter 57 of the constitution.
•Lieutenant Samir Tarhouni, Colonel of Tunisia’s anti-terrorism Brigade who broke into the airport, without the permission of his officials, in a bid to detain the president’s family and wife, although the president was in the Carthage palace at the time.
•Colonel Sami Sik Salem, Commander of the Presidential Security Forces, who took the historical decision of calling upon the Prime Minister to take office.
•Mohsen Rahim, the Presidential Chief of Protocol, who organized and prepared Ben Ali’s trip to Jeddah.
•Ghazwa and Sirine Ben Ali, daughters of the former president, who were with him on the January 13 and 14.
There are also minor characters who participated in the events, including:
•The presidential plane’s pilot
•The president’s valet
•Female flight attendants
•The Tunis-Carthage international airport Commander.
Sami Sik Salem
Sami Sik Salem is Commander of the President and official personalities Security Service; in Charge of guarding the presidential palace since 1994.
On Monday January 10 2011, Salem received instructions directly from the Presidential Security Chief, General Ali Asseriaty to apply extraordinary security precautions by guarding the Carthage presidential palace and all presidential headquarters. Salem implemented these measures till Thursday on January 13, when he attended a meeting in his office, under the supervision of the Presidential Security Chief. The meeting focused on maximal precaution measures and on implementing the 12/12 hour system according to which every individual works 12 consecutive hours and rests for 12 hours.
During that meeting, Ali Asseriaty received a phone call from the former president and told him that the country was witnessing civil disobedience and that they installed additional checkpoints, closed all entries to the Carthage presidential palace and doubled the number of guards in the other presidential headquarters. Furthermore, they provided officers in civilian clothing with pistols and on January 14, 2011, the agents were provided with Beretta weapons equipped with 20 rounds magazines. The officers were ordered to wear their combat uniforms and some escort units were sent to the house of the former president’s wife to help the family evacuate after the security service had received threats and after panic took over them.
That same day, all necessary precautions were taken; however, the security service received information on their radios about protestors flowing from Al Karm Street to the presidential palace where they were planning to camp out. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, Colonel Salem was checking on his units and on his way back, he was intercepted by a black Audi running at an extraordinary speed, driven by the Presidential Security Chief, General Ali Asseriaty and carrying the Presidential Chief of Protocol, Mohsen Rahim. It was at that moment that Salem heard on his radio about the president’s departure from the presidential palace. In a second transmission, Salem learned the president’s convoy missed the turn to the presidential residence in Sidi Bou Said.
So Sik Salem headed straight to the operations room where he was informed that the president’s convoy was heading to the presidential airport where the presidential plane was waiting for Ben Ali’s family. It was in the same operations room that Sik Salem received information on his radio indicating that “Seven thousand resident heading from Al Maras and 5,000 residents from Al-Karma were willing to attack the presidential palace”. He also received information on a potential attack on the palace from the sea and another piece of information about a helicopter planning to attack the palace from the air. In light of this information, Sik Salem phoned the director of the president’s escorts, Colonel Elias Zallak to inquire about these events. Zallak told Salem that he was unaware of these happenings and that he received a call from Ali Asseriaty asking him to join him at the airport. Sik Salem, then called Ali Asseriaty from his mobile phone but the latter didn’t answer so Salem’s fear and confusion aggravated.
Salem then called his direct chief, Colonel Adnan Hattab and asked him to clarify the situation especially that he was the highest ranking officer responsible for the president’s security present at that moment in the palace. However, Hattab’s response was confusing and more fearful because he literally told Sami Sik Salem that he was not at the presidential palace and asked him to search for a place to hide. Adnan Hattab words exacerbated the fears of Salem who was directly responsible for dozens of officers and agents entitled of guarding the palace and who seemed stressed and feared the unknown since their lives were under threat according to the news they received about a potential attack on the presidential palace they were guarding.
Tension was the master of the situation, some officers started to leave their positions and panic took over the Carthage palace where everybody felt their lives threatened. At that moment, Sami Sik Salem returned from the operations room and asked to be connected to General Rachid Ammar, Chief of Staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, who was in charge of coordinating the operations in the ministry of the interior. While the operator was striving to contact General Rachid Ammar, Salem called from his mobile phone Captain Bashir Shahida, from the president’s security service, who was in charge of protecting the prime minister in Al Kasba. Salem asked the Captain to pass the phone to the prime minister and while Shahida was heading to the prime minister’s office, Salem received a phone call from the operator telling him that he managed to contact the operations room in the ministry of national defense.
However, on the other side of the line, was the voice of General Ahmad Shabir who replaced General Rachid Ammar in coordinating the operations in the ministry of defense after General Ammar had been transferred to the ministry of the interior to manage the operations there. Sik Salem told General Shabir he wanted to speak personally to general Ammar so Shabir told him that he could call him at the ministry of the interior. At that precise moment, Salem Sik received a phone call from Captain Bashir Shahida who reached the Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi's office and secured the connection between the two sides. Thus, Sami Sik Salem informed the Prime Minister that the president fled the country with his family and told him: “You are now entrusted with the leadership of Tunisia, don’t let us face the unknown”. One could have sensed fear and concern in his words. However, the Prime Minister told Sik Salem that he was not entitled to deal with this situation and that he should convoke the house speaker, the head of senate and the president of the constitutional council. So Sami Sik Salem told him that he would send an armored car to bring him from his office in Al Kasba to the Carthage presidential palace and that he will make sure to convene the personalities mentioned by Ghannouchi. Therefore, Salem sent the cars and some officers to the above mentioned personalities houses and waited their arrival. In the face of the chaos and panic that haunted the presidential palace and the officers, Sami Sik Salem went out to the palace’s main square, ordered to gather the agents and officers to uplift their spirits telling them “e are here to guard the president of the state and not Ben Ali. I want you to be men and heroes and every one of you needs to keep his position. No bullet shall be shot without my direct permission for any reason whatsoever”.
Meanwhile, the house speaker, Fouad Mebazaa and the head of Senate, Abdullah Kallel arrived to the palace followed by Ghannouchi. They all settled in the operations room of the presidential security service in a bid to record the statement of the house speaker Fouad Mebazaa who sat in front of the Tunisian TV camera but soon got up from his chair and apologized from doing this mission out of sickness and proposed that the head of senate does it on his behalf. But Sami Sik Salem stood up and shouted: “This could not be the man we need, the country is bound to erupt after his appearance”.
Then, the Prime Minister interfered quoting the constitution said: “We could rely on chapter 56 of the constitution”. They then entered a room where they drafted the Prime Minister’s statement which he delivered in front of the TV camera. Ghannouchi then asked the police governor, Youssef Sassi, to deliver the tape to the Tunisian television channel. The channel broadcast the video after coordinating with Idriss Ben Youssef, the person responsible for coordination between the presidency and Tunisian television. Afterwards, Sami Sik Salem received an inquiry call from Adnan Hattab and asked him to join him immediately at the presidential palace without delving into details on the phone. And the operator managed to reach General Rachid Ammar at the ministry of the interior so Sami Sik Salem asked him confusingly to show up at the Carthage presidential palace. But General Ammar told him that he only takes orders from the defense minister. When Colonel Adnan Hattab finally arrived to the palace, Sami Sik Salem related to him all the details and asked him to supervise the situation since he was Sik Salem’s direct chief. And under intense stress, Sami Sik Salem told his Colonel that he could no longer continue his duties and headed to his office.
On the morning of January 14, General Ali Asseriaty, the Presidential Security Chief who was often by the side of the former president, entered his office then went out in a hurry. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, Asseriaty came again to his office and asked the police officer, Amjad Dabari, about some passports. Few minutes later the police officer handed him two passports, one for Mohsen Rahim, the Presidential Chief of Protocol and one for Ali Asseriaty who left the office with a leather suitcase in his hand.
In the evening, and in light of the disorder and panic in the palace, he went to the palace’s main square and watched Sami Sik Salem speaking to the agents and officers and telling them in a loud voice: “I called the general director, he did not answer. I called his deputy, Adnan and he didn’t answer either. My dear fellows, Ben Ali escaped the country and we are men who are here to protect the president of the state and not Ben Ali himself. Ben Ali escaped, but we are men, and we will always stay men. I hereby order you not to shoot any bullet for whatever reason without my permission.”
The hundred or so agents and officers stood still, amazed by Salem’s speech that tried to comfort and reassure them. However, they soon disobeyed his orders.
Sami Masakini was ordered to accompany the driver sent to the house of Fouad Mebazaa, the house speaker, which was near the presidential palace. On the way to the Carthage palace, Mebazaa did not utter a word. Masakini then went to bring Abdullah Kallel, the head of senate, from his house, near the palace. He too did not utter one word. When the two men arrived to the operations room, they decided to move to the former president’s office to record the statement. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Al-Ghannouchi arrived in an armored car escorted by presidential security forces. So the three politicians discussed the solution that needed to be adopted after the house speaker, Fouad Mebazaa, had refused to take over power under the pretext of sickness and his incapacity of fulfilling this task. And therefore, in an office next to the former president’s bureau, Prime Minister Al-Ghannouchi took out of his pocket a scratch paper where he had hastily written some words and expressed his will to take over power as an interim president according to chapter 56 of the Tunisian constitution.
Facts – Imad al-Habazi – head of operations in the presidential security service
The security service received information on a potential helicopter attack on the presidential palace, so the presidential security units were ordered to target any military helicopter that would try to land inside the palace. Meanwhile, President Ben Ali and the presidential security chief were in the president’s office. Afterwards, the operations room was informed of the presence of gunboats heading toward the palace. The agents in the operations room were shocked and they soon informed Ali Asseriaty, the presidential security chief who was two feet away from the former president’s office and answered “I copy that”. Asseriaty was precipitated and concerned and the operations room was receiving recurrent calls from the presidential car driver asking about the state of the route linking the presidential palace to the presidential residence in Sidi al-Drif. The operations room told him the road was clear and passable. At that moment, the operations room received the announcement of the president’s wife, Leila Ben Ali, arrival to the palace accompanied by her son Mohammed.
10 minutes later, Ali Asseriaty called the operations room and told them that they will leave the palace and head to the national army barracks at Ouainia. He insisted on the secrecy of this information. All the agents in the operations room were confused and surprised by these orders; they ignored what was really happening. At about 4:15 in the afternoon, the presidential convoy scurried from the Carthage palace and Colonel Sami Sik Salem arrived to the operations room and asked about the president and the cadres, so the operations room chief replied: “I don’t know”. Then Sik Salem shouted: “the president ran away, he fled the country”. So the operations chief asked him if he had any information on the matter and Salem told him that he called Asseriaty’s deputy, Adnan, who advised him to find a place to hide. After hearing this answer, Salem erupted in anger and uttered in strict words and in front of everybody: “I will act on my own and call the Prime Minister”. So Sik Salem, the highest ranking security agent present in the palace, called Officer Bashir Shahida who was in charge of the prime minister’s security and asked him to put the Prime Minister on the line.
And therefore, Sik Salem told his interlocutor: “I am Colonel Sami Sik Salem, from the president’s security service. Mr. Prime Minister, President Ben Ali fled the country and you are the only man capable of saving the country. Tunisia is held in trust for you. Therefore you need to come to the palace”. Sik Salem’s words were emotional and he told the Prime Minister that he would send him an escorted car to bring him to the Carthage palace. Afterwards, Sik Salem called Abdullah Kallel, Fouad Mebazaa and Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi. And the convoy waited in front of Fathi Abdul Nazer’s house and tried to call him but he was out of reach. Then, Sik Salem called Colonel Adnan Hattab to ask him why hadn’t he answered his calls, and after the ministers reached the palace, Adnan Hattab arrived.
Sami Sik Salem speech to the security agents
After the mentioned ministers arrived to the palace, the operations room radioed all the units in the presidential palace and residence, reminding them of their duties and comforting them to uplift their spirits. The instructions were clear: “all units should keep their positions and respect the instructions of their leaders”. Then Sik Salem gathered the agents and officers in the palace’s square and preached to them saying: “We are doing serious and responsible work here. Our task is to guard the Carthage presidential palace, we work according to rules and orders and we are not at the service of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali himself, every member should keep his position and respect discipline and orders.”
When Fouad al-Mebazaa arrived at the palace, he was escorted to the presidential security service’s office before Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi’s arrival. Everybody was moved to the presidential cabinet where is located the president’s office. Meanwhile, Lt. Colonel Elias Zallak called the operations room and informed them that he was coming to the palace with Mohsen Rahim, the presidential chief of protocol and reassured them that he was fine. When asked about the president and his wife, Zallak did not give any detail insisting that he was on his way to the palace. Afterwards, Ali Asseriaty, the presidential security chief contacted the operations room and inquired about the situation. When he knew that the prime minister and the house speaker were in the palace he replied “ok, fine” and hang up.
Facts in the operations room
At 2:15 in the afternoon, the operations room chief called the responsible for the four presidential ambulances to see if the cars were ready in case of emergency.
And at 3:57, the operations room chief called the taskforce chief at the presidential aircraft headquarter who informed him that two military helicopters have landed in the airbase at Ouainia carrying each 10 members of the Tunisian army vanguards. He had also informed the Presidential security chief of that situation.
On the other hand, Lieutenant Mounsef Chabi, in charge of guarding the presidential aircrafts, notified the operations room that the border police had prohibited the presidential plane crew from entering the airport through the north gate. So Chabi called Ali Asseriaty who asked him to tell the crew to enter from the VIP lounge.
At 4:46 in the afternoon, the palace’s surveillance camera was redirected to the sea after the security service had received information on gunboats heading to the presidential palace.
Colonel Adnan Hattab – Deputy to presidential security chief
Adnan Hattab was in his office, listening to his radio and following the situation in front of the ministry of the interior. At about 4:30 in the afternoon, he was informed of the former president’s departure with his family toward the presidential VIP lounge in the airport. Moreover, he received a direct call from Ali Asseriaty telling him that the presidential family was willing to travel to Jeddah in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah.
Hattab also knew that Ali Asseriaty and Mohsen Rahim have taken their passports with them and at about 5 o’clock, Ali Asseriaty informed him that the national vanguards and Tunisia’s anti-terrorism brigade interrupted the presidential flight. So Adnan called Lieutenant Colonel, Samir al-Tarhouni, who related to him the skirmish. Then Adnan Called LT. Colonel Arabi Akhal, chief of the national guards unit who passed the phone to Samir al-Tahrouni. Al-Tahrouni literally told Adnan: “if you want to know the truth, you should call General Rachid Ammar”. So Adnan Hattab called from the Palace’s phone distributor, General Rachid Ammar and said: “My general, I pay you my respect. I would like you to tell me what to do under these circumstances”. So general Ammar replied: “My son, take care of the men and the weapons you are entrusted with. From this moment on, you are in charge of your unit, so be careful”.
At 4 o’clock in the afternoon and in one of the presidential security department corridors, Adnan Hattab met with the presidential security chief who told him that the president would head with his family to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah.
Hattab issued instructions to the presidential security navy taskforce to secure all the points in the palace overlooking the sea. He also received many calls and information from the presidential security cadres concerning protests in the popular streets near the presidential palace.
On the 14th of January, as soon as Hattab knew about the president’s departure, he headed at 5 o’clock to the former president’s sister’s house in el Menzah IX. Once inside the house, he received a call from Lieutenant Elias Zallak, in charge of the presidential escorts, asking him if he could send two cars, including one armored car, to Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi, upon the request of Colonel Sami Sik Salem. Then, Hattab called Colonel Salem who asked him to immediately come to the presidential palace without giving him further details.
Adnan Hattab assures that he heard on his radio at 4 o’clock information about a military aircraft heading toward the presidential palace and that Ali Asseriaty had given orders to shoot the plane but soon retracted his orders.
Captain Bashir Shahida – chief of the Prime Minister security
Captain Shahida was in the prime minister’s headquarter on January 14. Around 5 o’clock, when Prime Minister Al-Ghannouchi was preparing to leave to his house, the security situation was tense in all the streets and routes normally taken by the prime minister’s convoy. After receiving information on a huge demonstration counting around 4,000 protesters in Bab Saadoun crossroad, the prime minister decided to stay in his office until the presidential security taskforce arrived and drove him to the Carthage palace at about 5:30.
At around 5:47, Captain Bashir Shahida received a call from Colonel Sami Sik Salem asking him to pass the phone to Prime Minister Ghannouchi to talk to him about some serious business. So Shahida passed the mobile phone to the Prime Minister who was alone in his office, without discerning the content of the call between Colonel Sik Salem and Ghannouchi.
Tasks distribution in the presidential security department
Since January 12, the five security taskforces were gathered and divided into two groups of 88 agents each. The first group was entitled to work from 7 am till 7 pm, and the second group, from 7 pm till 7 am. A reserve taskforce was held on guard in the Kamrat barracks. As for weapons, the presidential security agents had been working without arms for 4 years whereas only the troupes’ leaders, chiefs and commanders were allowed to carry weapons. So one day before on January 13, all agents and officers were provided with different kinds of weapons according to the task of each.
At 4:25 in the afternoon, the presidential convoy passed by Al Mouallaka crossroad, near the palace, in a suspicious and unusual way. The convoy was heading to Sidi Bou Said.
Lieutenant Youssef Ben Hamadi from the presidential security service was entrusted with carrying the tape of the prime minister’s statement to the Tunisian television where he watched the video running live.
At around 4:30, Fawzi Darwish, Chief of the Guidance taskforce in the presidential security service, called the presidential security chief Ali Asseriaty and told him that a women from Marth region, was asking to meet president Ben Ali to inform him that the situation was dangerous and that a conspiracy was being conceived against him.
Colonel Elias Zallak – in charge of official and presidential escorts
After Ben Ali Left the presidential palace, chaos ensued.
On December 23, 2010, Colonel Zallak was assigned the task of escorting President Ben Ali and his wife to Dubai. It was a family trip with the president’s daughter Halima and her fiancé Mahdi Benkayed; the president and his family stayed at the Atlantis the Palm hotel and visited many tourist sites including the global village. Ali Asseriaty was with the family on their trip that ended on the December 28, 2010. On January 12, Zallak received instructions to secure the president’s family residences. On January 13, the president was present in the presidential palace the whole day, unlike the usual when he only attended morning sessions. Zallak was instructed to prepare the “Aalaysa” yacht and three armored cars in the backyard of the presidential residence in Sidi Al-Drif in case of an emergency evacuation caused by protesters’ attack on the presidential palace.
On January 14, information had been flowing since early morning on a potential sit-in organized by protesters near the presidential palace and about protesters gathered in Habib Bourakiba Avenue and heading to the Carthage palace. At around 11:30, Colonel Zallak was instructed to bring members from the Trabelsi family from their homes to the presidential residence in Sidi Al-Drif. He also received a call from the presidential airplane taskforce chief, informing him that he was instructed to prepare the presidential airplane to leave the country. Meanwhile, Ali Asseriaty called him, asking him to show at his office where he found Colonel Adnan Hattab. Adnan said that it was about time to inform the President that the people are rejecting him and that his resignation was a must in order to safeguard the country’s security and stability. Furthermore, Adnan insisted that officers were not ready to shoot the demonstrators down and shed blood.
At that moment, Zallak told Asseriaty that the presidential airplane was ready, so Asseriaty replied: “I am aware of that, departure is scheduled for 5 o’clock in the afternoon”, then the three men left Asseriaty’s office who headed directly to Ben Ali’s office. Elias Zallak left the presidential palace to check the route where he found the task forces on guard and asked them not to use their weapons against the civilians but to only recourse to sticks and tear gas when needed. During his tour, he was informed that a group of citizens coming from Al Marsa were planning to attack the presidential residence in Sidi Al-Drif. When Zallak arrived to Imtiaz crossroad, he received a call from Ali Asseriaty asking him where he was and informing him that they were about to leave. So Zallak advised him that a group of citizens on the La Flase crossroad were planning an attack against the palace. So Asseriaty asked him to stay in his position, then called him again and said: “Treason! Call Samir al-Tarhouni”.
So Zallak called Samir al-Tarhouni to inquire about the situation but the latter insulted him and told him: “if you were a man, you would come to the airport immediately”. Zallak advised Asseriaty who asked him to go to the airport with two special escorts’ cars. Afterwards, Zallak called Colonel Adnan Hattab and informed him about the situation so Hattab asked him to abide by the instructions. On his way to the airport to meet Asseriaty, Zallak received a phone call from Sami Sik Salem who asked him to provide an armored car to drive the Prime Minister.
Once he arrived in front of the presidential troupes’ barracks in Ouainia, one of the soldiers opened the door for Zallak and he headed directly to the ward where he found President Ben Ali and Ali Asseriaty. Ben Ali had his left hand in his pocket and an unusual look on his face. So Zallak headed towards them and related to them his conversation with Samir al-Tarhouni. He also saw President Ben Ali speaking to his wife, Leila, walking back and forth near the presidential plane. Few moments later, a car driven by Leila Ben Ali’s personal driver, arrived to the ward carrying some members of her family. Zallak heard the president’s wife shouting: “What are they doing here?”.
The president then asked Asseriaty to order the plane’s departure. But since the President knew about the presence of Samir al-Tarhouni and his squad in the airport, he asked Asseriaty to call the army and send them to the airport to inquire about the situation in a bid to prevent any clash between the regular troops. Asseriaty told the president that he tried to call and failed. These were one the most critical moments for the agents in charge for the president’s security. They were confused and feared a potential confrontation with other squads.
Meanwhile, Ben Ali’s daughter Halima, inquired Asseriaty what was happening but was reassured that everything was fine as he watched Halima,her fiancé, Mahdi Benkayed, Ben Ali and his wife, board the airplane; while the Trabelsi family members who joined them stayed on ground, since they were not allowed to get on the plane.
The presidential security guards thought that the airplane would take off from the international airport but it took off from the military airport. The airplane was guarded and secured according to Asseriaty’s instructions and when it took off, Elias Zallak went back with his men to the presidential airplane ward where the officers seemed relieved and satisfied from securing the president’s departure under those conditions without any confrontation or losses. Some even wept for joy. Meanwhile, Zallak joined Asseriaty in the airbase command in Ouainia. He heard him talking on the phone with someone called Salim asking him to show u[ quickly at the airport because of the presence of a military aircraft.
Zallak asked Colonel Elias Mankebi from the air force to ask about the situation: “What are we supposed to do now? He is talking about a military aircraft”. Mankebi replied: “Go home”. Zallak asked him: “What about my men?”, so Mankebi replied: “Take your men and leave”. Then Zallak asked the chief of protocol Mohsen Rahim to escort him on his way out and to take Asseriaty’s permission to leave. Mohsen went to speak with Asseriaty and then came back with the permission to leave. So Elias Zallak went to see Asseriaty to have his permission and the latter told them to leave in phases so that they don’t get noticed. Thus, Elias Zallak left the barracks and headed to the palace, accompanied by Mohsen Rahim, the chief of presidential protocol.
Zallak knew that prime minister Mohammad Al-Ghannouchi had told president Ben Ali that he was held by them, so he received a call from his cousin, an officer in the national army who worked directly with Rachid Ammar and asked him to secure connection with Ammar to ask him what to do. And indeed, Rachid Ammar called him and instructed him to secure the leave of the prime minister, the House of Representatives’ speaker and the head of the senate. Therefore, Zallak prepared the cars and called Rachid Ammar to inform him that they were leaving in 5 minutes.
Hamed Ben Mabrouk – head of HQ security in the presidential security service
On the night of January 13, Ben Mabrouk was in a meeting in Ali Asseriaty’s office, presided by Asseriaty and attended by Colonel Adnan Hattab, Tewfik Kasemi, Elias Zallak and Colonel Sami Sik Salem. The meeting focused on the necessary precautions to adopt in light of the latest developments.
During the meeting, President Ben Ali called Asseriaty on his personal phone to discuss the happenings. In his conversation with the president, Asseriaty was confirming to his interlocutor that he was coordinating with the ministry of interior and with General Rachid Ammar. During the meeting, it was agreed to increase vigilance and work according to the 12-hour system, in addition to taking necessary precautions to evacuate the President from the sea side, provided it was necessary. But Ali Asseriaty refused the last proposition arguing that the situation was not that grave. So it was agreed to put additional units in advanced points around the presidential palace, in Amilcar, El Abidine mosque, Hannibal and Mouallaka crossroads.
Ben Mabrouk heard on his radio that a helicopter would attack the presidential palace and then received a radio call from the operations room informing him about the necessity to use firearm in case a helicopter flew over the presidential palace. He also received a call from the person in charge of the 12.7 mm machine guns for clarifications and then a radio call advising him to wait for orders.
Mabrouk was confused: cars were dropping presidential family members at the Carthage palace and he suspected that the president intended to leave. Then he went to meet the navy unit chief in charge of the presidential palace port who informed him that he did not understand what was happening and that he received no instructions to prepare the presidential yacht “Aaleysa”.
Mabrouk heard on his radio information about a warship planning to attack the presidential palace and when he asked the agents present there, they admitted that they didn’t see any relevant detail.
Salim Al Ahsan- Captain of intervention in the presidential security service
On the night of January 13, and about 8 o’clock in the evening, Captain Al Ahsan received instructions ordering him to bring Leila Trabelsi’s sister, Jalila Trabelsi, from her home in the Salambo region. His unit found her hiding at her neighbor’s house and she was transferred to the presidential residence in Sidi Al-Drif. He was also entrusted with moving Leila Trabelsi’s family because their houses were under threat. So he brought them all to the presidential palace in Sidi Al-Drif on the morning of January 14 since the family member’s houses and facilities were targeted.
At 11:30, Al Ahsan returned to the Carthage palace and was assigned by Elias Zallak as the convoy officer. Zallak also asked him to prepare the presidential yacht “Aalaysa”. Meanwhile, he was hearing successive calls on his radio talking about protesters who attacked military troupes and security headquarters, and other calls about some demonstrators intending to head towards the Carthage presidential palace. While he was at the presidential palace, he noticed the presence of the cars of Ghazwa’s and Sirine, Ben Ali’s daughters. He asked about them and knew that they were in the president’s office with their father. He also saw Halima, Ben Ali’s youngest daughter, crying next to her fiancé. When he was standing near the convoy, in the presidential palace pavilion, he saw a helicopter flying above the Halk Wadi region, so he called the operations room and informed the chief about the helicopter’s position. The operations room chief asked him to wait until the helicopter steadied and then, Al Ahsan heard on his radio the instructions issued to all units requiring them to shoot the helicopter in case it came near the presidential palace. The Captain also noticed Ali Asseriaty’s recurrent movement and his frequent visits to President Ben Ali’s office.
At 3:30, Al Ahsan knew through his radio that a state car carrying weapons for the Carthage police agents was heading to one of the checkpoints of the presidential palace in a bid to provide weapons after receiving instructions to evacuate the headquarter.
Then Al Ahsan listened on his radio to a conversation relating the President’s wife, Leila Ben Ali, departure from the Presidential private residence to the Carthage Presidential palace. A while later, a Lincoln car arrived to the Presidential palace with Leila Ben Ali at the wheel. She headed directly to the Presidential cabinet and went down with her son to President Ben Ali’s office. Meanwhile, the Presidential security chief, Ali Asseriaty, and the Presidential chief of protocol, arrived to the palace in a black Audi and entered President Ben Ali’s office. A short while later, President Ben Ali went out of his office with his wife Leila, his son Mohammed, Ali Asseriaty and Mohsen Rahim. So Salim Al Ahsan asked Asseriaty about their destination and Asseriaty literally answered him: “we are heading for Ouainia barrack”.
Straight afterwards, Leila Trabelsi, got into her Lincoln with her husband President Ben Ali and their son Mohammed Zine El Abidine, while Asseriaty and Mohsen Rahim, the Presidential chief of protocol, got into the black Audi and they all sped off followed by the rest of the cars. At Al Muallaka crossroad, Ali Asseriaty had a car accident due to over speed when he hit a civilian car. And at Aisha city, the car driven by Leila Trabelsi overrode the convoy and ran at the lead at 150 km/h. Then the first security car and Ali Asseriaty’s car followed. Asseriaty was at that moment leading the convoy. Then the convoy turned to enter the military airbase from the gate located at the national road number 9 – Al Marsa road – they waited few minutes in front of the gate before the door opened and the convoy took the route to the Presidential airplane ward without any mentionable delay.
When they arrived near the airplane, everybody got out of their cars including President Ben Ali who had an unusual look on his face. Leila Ben Ali also stepped down with her son Mohammed. Al Ahsan watched Halima, the President’s daughter, crying next to her fiancé Mahdi Benkayed. The aircraft crew was preparing the airplane for takeoff while a tanker truck was refueling the airplane. Meanwhile Ali Asseriaty told Al Ahsan that the anti-terrorism brigade were affiliated to the Islamists, so Al Ahsan asked him “You mean the Presidential security special units?”, Asseriaty replied: “No I’m taking about Tunisia’s Anti-terrorism Brigade of the ministry of interior. They are stationed in the airport and might prevent the Presidential airplane from taking off”. Then Asseriaty headed towards President Ben Ali who was on the phone, so he instructed his units to check for details which surprised them. At that moment, Elias Zallak arrived, talked with Asseriaty and then spoke to Al Ahsan to inquire about the situation; so Elias Zallak informed him that he spoke with colonel Samir al-Tarhouni who advised him that he was about to arrest the Trabelsi’s in the airport. Afterward and after consulting Colonel Adnan Hattab, it was agreed to apply the instructions and secure the departure of the plane.
Ali Asseriaty addressed Al Ahsan, Elias Zallak and Captain Belghazi and said: “You are capable of accomplishing this task”. He meant that they could secure the airplane’s departure and President Ben Ali was present and heard his words.
It was agreed to open the takeoff aisle using two armored vehicles and securing the plane’s sides with the other cars. The agents and officers were given the choice to participate in the mission or not. When they were all discussing the security plan, the Presidential aircraft moved, which pushed them to get into their cars. Al Ahsan was driving one of the cars in the lead that were running under the airplane’s right wing. And the airplane ran toward the military tarmac.
When the airplane took off, everybody stopped at the Presidential airplane ward where they all expressed their joy at having accomplished the mission without any mentionable losses in light of the current circumstances and the panic that took over everyone. At that moment, Al Ahsan was given instructions from Colonel Elias Zallak to prevent any civilian, i.e. the family members who were still in the airport ward, from going inside the convoy’s cars. So the cars were arranged in two rows and Al Ahsan left for the officers’ club in the military barrack and waited for instructions.
Meanwhile, a grey black Mercedes arrived, carrying the President’s son in law, Salim Zarouk, and his wife Ghazwa Ben Ali. They directly joined Ali Asseriaty. Elias Zallak asked Mohsen Rahim, the Chief of protocol to advice Asseriaty that the convoy was ready to leave. However, Asseriaty gave him the permission to leave without him because he was going to stay in the military barrack. The Convoy left on several phases to prevent getting noticed and all the cars headed for the Presidential palace in Carthage.
Hassan Al Wartani – President Ben Ali’s Usher
The President’s usher, who also worked for former President Habib Bourkiba, noticed that over the past five years, Ben Ali’s memory had weakened.
On January 14, the usher began his day as usual and around 10 o’clock in the morning, the President’s daughters, Ghazwa and Nisrine Ben Ali, arrived to the palace with their husbands Marwan Mabrouk and Salim Zarouk. They were going in and out his office with expressions of fear on their faces. They talked a lot on their phones and around midday, Ali Asseriaty arrived at the palace carrying a Motorola radio. He entered the President’s office in a rush and then left the office accompanied by the President. They both headed to the office’s hallway, then Ali Asseriaty left the office and came back again at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He ran towards the President’s office and asked the usher to open the door for him to meet the President.
And indeed, Asseriaty entered the office after the President had given him permission and they both got out to the corridor and talked for about 10 minutes. Marwan Mabrouk, Nisrine Ben Ali’s husband, was also in the corridor, talking on his mobile phone. The usher noticed that the President was confused: he was looking left and right. Ali Asseriaty was also uncomfortable and every now and then, he was answering calls on his mobile phone. That was unlike his usual habit since he used to leave his phone outside the President’s office.
After Ali Asseriaty’s sudden departure, the President rushed into his office and around 4 o’clock, Marwan Mabrouk and Sirine Ben Ali left the palace. Then, around 4:30, Ali Asseriaty, Leila Ben Ali, the President’s son Mohammed Zine El Abidine, his daughter Halima and her fiancé Mahdi Benkayed arrived to the office. They were walking strikingly fast with expressions of fear and terror on their faces. The President left with them. Wartani looked at his watch, it was 4:15. The President literally told him “Stay here, I will accompany them and come back”.
And indeed, the usher kept his position until Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi arrived with the house speaker, Fouad Mebzaa and the head of senate, Abdullah Kallel accompanied by security officials in the palace. At their head was Sami Sik Salem who asked Wartani to open the door of President Ben Ali’s office since he was in charge of his keys. He said they wanted to enter the office to film a speech addressed by Mr. Mebazaa to the Tunisian people. But the usher refused to open the door and said: “I cannot open the door for you”, so Sami Sik Salem answered him: “The President fled the country, he is no longer in Tunisia. The President left”.
Wartani was surprised by Sami Sik Salem’s severe tone and proposed to film the statement in a hall next to the President’s office. Around 15 people were present, they gathered in the hall and after they have finished recording, Sik Salem asked Wartani to assure a special place for the prime minister, the house speaker and the head of senate stay in the Presidential palace. Afterwards, Sami Sik Salem went to the Presidential palace’s pavilion and then came back to sit at his place in front of the President’s office.
Meanwhile, Wartani received a call, on his cell phone through the palace’s distributor, from President Ben Ali. The operator asked him to pass the phone to the prime minister because President Ben Ali needed to talk to him. So Wartani gave his phone to one of the officers and asked him to pass the device to the prime minister because the President was on the line. A short while later, the officers gave him his phone back while Sami Sik Salem went out of the room in furry, refusing to pass any other phone call.
Muntasser Khayari – Head of the Telex department in presidency
Muntasser Khayari asked Hassan Wartani, the President’s Usher, to prepare a table in the hall where the prime minister would film his statement to the Tunisian people.
Hassan Wartani asked Khayari to carry his mobile phone to Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi saying that President Ben Ali was on the line and wanted to speak with him. And indeed, Khayari gave the phone to the prime minister and heard him saying literally: “Mr. President, the country is burning and I cannot retract the statement I delivered. I am not alone; I have with me the house speaker and the head of the senate. You are our President and you are welcome among us whenever you come back”.
Salem Wartani- President Ben Ali’s second usher and brother of the first usher, Hassan Wartani
Salem Wartani noticed that the senior advisor, Abdul Aziz Ben Dia, frequently reported to the President’s office since the beginning of the protests. Ben Dia was spending a long time with the President just as the minister of the interior, Rafik Hajj Kassem.
On January 13, Salem Wartani started his work as usual: he opened the President’s office door, replaced the floral bouquets, then closed the door and headed for the Presidential residence in Sidi Al-Drif where he stayed waiting for the President. When they left the residence, he took the President’s suitcase, put it in his car and the President left the residence with his personal driver for the palace. So S.Wartani followed him to open the office door for him.
Between 9:30 and 10 o’clock, Ghazwa and Sirine Ben Ali, the President’s daughters from his first wife Naima Kafi, arrived to the palace with their husbands. They were going inside his office, and then going out to the library. His daughter Sirine was going in and out the office to make phone calls. Fear and terror was showing on their faces.
At around 11 o’clock in the morning, the Presidential Cabinet chief, Ayad Wardani, arrived President Ben Ali’s office and joined his daughters and their husbands in the library where the President’s speech was being drafted.
From time to time, the speech was being shown to the President for modifications. After the President agreed on the final version of the speech, the paper was handed to Karim Chetyawi, a public information officer, to copy it on a reader. Then the preparations for the video shoot began. Meanwhile, Mohsen Rahim, the Presidential chief of protocol, the President’s wife, Leila Ben Ali and his personal writer, Rachid Hamdan, arrived to Ben Ali’s office. At the end of the filming session, everybody applauded. Afterwards, Ben Ali left the Presidential palace with his wife, therefore, everybody left and Salem Wartani closed the office’s door.
Mohsen Rahim - the Presidential Chief of Protocol
Mohsen Rahim noticed President Ben Ali’s insistence on visiting Mohammed Bou Azizi at the severe burns hospital after he had met with some of the injured during the riots. At 11 o’clock, the President informed his personal advisor, the Presidential spokesman Abdul Aziz Ben Dia, that he would be visiting Bou Azizi at around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. And indeed, Ben Dia advised Mohsen Rahim of the matter and of the President’s meeting with the families of three injured from Sidi Bou Zid who were provided with envelopes containing money. President Bin Ali went to the hospital in a bid to talk with Bou Azizi and inquire about the real reason that pushed him to set himself on fire, but the victim’s health condition did not offer him the chance.
On January 14, Mohsen Rahim arrived at his workplace in the Presidential palace at 7:15 in the morning. At midday, President Ben Ali called him on the phone and asked him to come to his office. He gave him instructions to prepare the Presidential airplane that will carry his family, i.e. his wife Leila, his son Mohammed and his daughter Halima, to the Kingdom of Saoodi Arabia to perform Umrah. The President literally told Rahim: “the situation is tensed and trouble is everywhere. They will go to Saoodi Arabia to amuse, entertain themselves and perform Umrah. Prepare the airplane and I will inform you later about the flight’s schedule”.
Mohsen Rahim called the director general of Tunis airlines, Nabil Shatawi, to coordinate with the airplane crew and prepare the flight as usual. Rahim noted that Ben Ali was not intending to travel with his family. At around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, President Ben Ali informed him that the airplane would take off at 6 o’clock in the evening, so Rahim called once again Nabil Shatawi and informed him of the departure hour. Then he accompanied Ali Asseriaty to his office where the latter brought his leather suitcase and put a gun at his side. His gun was showing, without a sheath.
Furthermore, Rahim received from one of the Presidential security officers a set of personnel passports in an envelope including the passport of Kamal Bdeiri, the President’s servant, which he delivered to the cabin crew when he arrived to the barrack in Ouainia. Once Rahim returned from Ali Asseriaty’s office, he found President Ben Ali, his wife Leila, his son Mohammed, their daughter Halima, her fiancé Mahdi Benkayed and one of Leila Trabelsi’s sisters standing in the corridor of the Presidential cabinet. The President was wearing a white shirt with a blue tie, without a jacket. Ben Ali called his personnel usher and asked him to bring him his jacked, as soon as he was handed his jacket, the President put it on in a hurry and everybody left the corridor. Ben Ali got with his daughter into the Lincoln car driven by Leila Ben Ali while Mohsen Rahim got into the Black Audi with Ali Asseriaty at the wheel. The two cars set off in the lead of the convoy at high speed.
In the President’s office hallway, Mohsen Rahim overheard Ali Asseriaty talking on the phone and giving instructions that clearly said: “There’s a helicopter, if it comes near the palace, shoot it with 12.7 mm machine guns and give it no chance to land in the palace.” Asseriaty also received another call informing him about a second helicopter approaching the palace from another side. Rahim heard as well Asseriaty speaking of gunboats heading for the palace from the sea.
Ali Asseriaty was insisting on evacuating Ben Ali and his wife from the palace and saying: “Mr. President, you and your wife need to leave now to the airport”.
Mohsen Rahim informed Asseriaty that the Presidential airplane was ready to leave and that the President had fixed the departure time at 6 o’clock in the evening. But Rahim did not change the date of departure since Ali Asseriaty was insisting on leaving the palace.
When they were all in the cabinet hallway, Asseriaty told him: “We will go to the airport and wait there till the airplane is ready. The army is there, they are our sons, and they are on our side”. Mohsen Rahim understood from Asseriaty’s words that the latter would feel safer in the airport with the army because the Presidential palace was under all types of threats and constitutes a danger on their lives especially after Asseriaty tried to call the airport commander, Zuhair Biyati, but another man answered his phone. The man introduced himself as Samir al-Tarhouni so Asseriaty was surprised and called Elias Zallak asking him to phone his friend Samir al-Tarhouni and inquire him about the situation because he tried to call the airport commander and al-Tarhouni answered the phone instead of him.
Asseriaty made this phone call when he was with Mohsen Rahim in the car on their way to the airport. Asseriaty told Rahim after he had hit a car at Muallaka crossroad: “I hope we could make it to the airport”. When Rahim asked for clarifications, Asseriaty replied: “the national vanguards and the police vanguards are leading a conspiracy, now you understand everything”. Asseriaty repeatedly tried to call Jalal Bourdiga, chief of intervention units and Samir al-Tarhouni direct commander, but he could not reach him.
When the convoy reached the national army barracks at Ouainia, some officers went out of their cars and knocked on the barracks blue door shouting: “Open the door”. They tried to climb it but finally one of the soldiers opened the door and the convoy quickly entered and headed for the VIP lounge in the airport that is only 200 meters away from the airplane ward; but President Ben Ali refused to come down from the car. So the convoy continued its way toward the airplane ward where Ben Ali, his wife Leila, his son Mohammed, his daughter Halima and her fiancé Mahdi Benkayed, the President’s personal butler Kamal Bdairi, Adel Trabelsi’s wife and two Filipina maids got out of the cars. They all waited near the airplane until it was refueled while the bags and luggage were shipped from the cars trunks. Kamal Bdairi, the President’s personal butler and the two Filipina maids got on the airplane.
The cabin crew number was limited including the pilot, Mahmoud Sheikh Rouhou, his assistant, the hostess Nadia Belhareth, another air host and a mechanic. Ali Asseriaty was making phone calls from time to time and Mohsen Rahim was standing next to the President who was continuously asking: “When will they finish refueling?”. Ayyad Wardani, the Presidential cabinet chief, called Mohsen Rahim on his cell phone and asked him to pass the phone to the President. The latter walked slightly away without getting noticed. Meanwhile, Halima, his daughter, came close to Rahim and asked him if her father would travel with them. So Rahim told her that her father was over there and she could ask him. Ben Ali asked Rahim to inquire from the pilot about the quantity of Kerosene that was filled, the remaining quantity and the estimated time to complete refueling.
The pilot answered that the whole process would end in 10 to 15 minutes and Rahim advised the President. When they finished refueling, Ali Asseriaty went on the airplane to get his coat after one of his men had put in onboard. It was the officer who brought Asseriaty’s leather suitcase from the airplane a while ago. It seemed that when the convoy arrived, the officers had put Asseriaty’s coat and bag in the airplane. President Ben Ali had already told Ali Asseriaty that there was no need for him to travel, “I will accompany them and come back”, the President said. So Asseriaty replied: “Mr. President, don’t come back before I tell you”
The flight process was unusual and quick. President Ben Ali did not ask his chief of protocol to travel with him, which was usually his main task. Furthermore, the legal procedures for the passengers were not complete.
After the airplane had taken off, Mohsen Rahim went with Ali Asseriaty to the military airport’s VIP lounge where Asseriaty asked some soldiers to serve him coffee milk and water.
Mohsen Rahim left with Elias Zallak after Asseriaty had told them: “You can leave now; I will stay here for a while. Go ahead and go, there’s no problem”.
At the moment Mohsen Rahim left the lounge, he received a phone call from President Ben Ali asking him if Ali Asseriaty was with him, Rahim told him that he left Asseriaty in the VIP lounge, so the President asked about his daughter Sirine and her Husband Salim. He wanted to know if they reached Ouainia. When Mohsen Rahim arrived to the Carthage Presidential palace at around 6 o’clock in the evening, he left for his house. And at around 8 o’clock at night, he called Ali Asseriaty who advised him that he was arrested and taken into the army’s custody.
Head of presidential airplane security in charge of protecting the president's plane
The person entrusted with the task of protecting the president's plane, a 737-700 Boeing and two military AB 412 helicopters situated in an aircraft military base planes hangar in al-Ouainia, usually has three or four days notice before the flight and the passengers list is usually secreted.
Monsef arrived at his office in the presidential plane hangar on January 14 in the morning and around 2 pm his team consisting of a mechanical engineer, a cleaning agent, a technician and an engineer left in normal conditions, since their working time was off. At 2:30 pm, Monsef received a call from Tarik Bin Salem, the supervising engineer of the plane who told him that under the instructions of the Director-General of Tunis Airline, he will return to work, asking him to contact the operations cabinet to let him enter through the VIP lounge, after he was stopped by the border police with the help of police officers. He contacted the Governor of the airport police, Zouhair al-Bayati, but in vain, so he contacted the presidential operations cabinet and they allowed him to enter through the door of the VIP lounge. Around 3:30 pm the technical team who is usually in charge of the plane’s preparation arrived, followed by the cabinet crew consisting of Mahmoud Sheikh Rouho the pilot, and his assistant Yasin Awlad Jaabillah, the host Bashir Kishk and the hostess Nadia Balharth. When the plane was being filled with fuel at around 4:20 pm , Monsef received a call from the President of the operations cabinet who told him that the presidential passenger was on his way to the plane, so he replied that the plane was still in the process of fueling in the hangar and has not been transferred yet to the VIP lounge, however he was surprised at 4:35 pm by the arrival of the presidential passenger from the military base door in al-Ouainia who directly stepped into the presidential plane. Monsef Chebbi left the room to give way for the President’s bodyguards.
The presidential plane fueling duration is about 20 minutes and the amount of fuel is about 16,000 liters. The door was closed after President Ben Ali got in, and the plane was pulled out by a tractor. Then the presidential vanguards kept up with the plane by car, until it took off from the military airport instead of the international airport. An hour later, Army vanguard arrived and arrested al-Trabelsi family members, who were waiting next to the hangar for a military plane as promised by Asseryati. At 6:10 am, on January 25 the presidential plane arrived and a military commission of the army checked it and took it back to the hangar again.
Head of the airport security
He knew all the details related to the departure of the President’s son-in-law, Sakhr al-Matiri at 12:25 pm on January 14, in a private jet belonging to Belhessen Trabelsi, and around 1 pm, he received a call from Ali Asseryati asking him to find seven seats for Trabelsi family members who were planning to travel. Moreover, he asked to delay the flight to Lyon, so that the passengers would be able to catch the plane and he has done so, after he confirmed the availability of vacant seats on Tunisia airlines plane heading to Lyon at 2:30 pm. But he learned afterwards that the pilot al-Kilani was burst with anger and refused to transport Trabelsi family members. At 2:45, he received a call from an aid in the presidential operation cabinet, telling him that a convoy left the presidential residence in Sidi al-Drif and is on its way to the airport; this convoy included Trabelsi family members, who arrived on board of five cars around 3:20 pm. They were accompanied by the President’s guards in civilian uniforms, and some of them were armed with pistols. The presidential security guards left as soon as they met al-Biyati and warned him that the convoy was then, under his responsibility. The family members intended to travel on board of the Italian plane heading to Milan, and some of them were asking about the time of Lyon’s trip whose pilot claimed that he had lost consciousness.
Vice President of the airport security
He received a phone call from Zuheir al-Bayati, the airport Governor telling him to meet him and asking him to go to the pilot of the flight to Lyon and ask the latter to wait for a while because there are some persons who are on their way to join the flight. The pilot asked him not to cause him any trouble because he wants to get home before 5 pm, which is the time of the curfew. In the meantime, the director of Tunisia Airline arrived and got on board to talk to the pilot in private, then the pilot stepped down from the plane and fainted so the former informed the head of the department at the time, and he received a phone call from his colleague, Hafez al-Aouni asking him about his place and demanding him to come quickly, saying that the counter-terrorism group attacked the airport and telling him to go to the VIP lounge in the airport. He went there and saw Trabelsi family members besieged by armed counter-terrorism elements. After a short time, another group of the National vanguards who were also armed arrived, in addition to the Director-General of the intervention unit General Jalal Boudarika who was in a state of panic and anger because of Colonel Samir al-Tarhuni’s behavior. The Director-General of the National Security, Adel al-Tawairi had contacted him on his cell phone and asked for an explanation of what is happening at the airport, so he told him that things are not clear and that the counter-terrorism group are surrounding Trabelsi family, and that they are aiming their weapons in everyone’s faces, so the head of security asked him about the source of the instructions and he answered that he does not know and that things are not clear.
Jalal Boudarika was angry and he was asking about the situation and Colonel Samir al-Tarhuni tried to calm him down while he was laughing and wandering around the VIP lounge smiling. On each occasion, he said to his men “May God give you good health guys, you have done a great job”. In the meantime, Zouhair al-Bayati, Governor of the airport received a call from Imad Trabelsi the President’s son-in-law, who was told to come to the airport, Zouhair said “You can come Imad, things are fine” and afterwards he saw Imad Trabelsi arriving to the VIP lounge at the airport and then the media team arrived in addition to a military bus of the National Army that transferred the family to al-Ouainia military base. The Army units planned to keep them in the VIP lounge to spend the night, but later decided to take them to al-Ouainia, and took the tape that the TV had filmed and handed it over to the Director-General of the concerned service, Rachid Obeid.
Head of the Border police units
On January 14, he received a phone call from Ali Asseryati at 4 pm, the presidential security chief and asked him about what is going on at the airport and told him, “What is going on at the airport?” so he answered that nothing that could be mentioned, so Asseryati asked him: “Why have you forbidden the president's daughter from getting onto the plane?” He replied he had no idea about the matter. He asked Asseryati to ask Zouhair al-Bayati, who responded that the matter is just related to stamps and has been resolved and then added that she is now on board. He told Asseryati that she was out and asked him to contact Zouhair al-Bayati because he was there too, and in the meantime Zouhair al-Bayati, informed Izz al-Din that the thread was not about Sirine Ben Ali, but it was about Trabelsi family members that have been prevented by anti-terrorism troop from leaving, so he asked him “whose instructions are they?” So he gave the phone to Samir al-Tarhuni telling him that Samir will clarify the matter. So Samir answered the phone and told him “Izz al-Din regarding the other one, I mean Sirine, she’s out” and then hung up the phone without even letting Izz al-Din ask him about his identity. Around 4:30pm, he called Zouhair al-Bayati, who did not answer so he called the head of the national security and told him what has happened then informed the central department of operations.
When checking the border and foreign residents’ treasury, there was no legal guide stating that President Ben Ali and his family had left the Tunisian territory.
Colonel Samir - Head of Anti-terrorism troop
Since January 12, he was charged of securing the building of the Ministry of Interior, where he sent a contingent of eight members armed with 2 km range weapons, a variety of weapons from private calibers and a large quantity of ammunition stored at the Ministry of Interior to be used when needed. On January 13, he held a meeting in the Ministry of Interior to carry out an operation in the city where the house of Bourakiba is located, however on January 14, he stayed in his office in the barracks in the Boushousha region and he has been following the events over the radio, through which he was listening to information about targeting security headquarters by setting them on fire in various regions of the capital and near the Ministry of Interior. The barracks’ headquarter was threatened by the demonstrators, who were estimated to reach ten thousand demonstrators after they had burned all security stations near the region. A significant number of security personnel had been attacked and a state of panic prevailed and aids got out securing their barracks. It was mentioned on the Radio - without mentioning the time - that demonstrators broke into the barracks then chaos and panic prevailed amongst the aids especially in the ranks of those who had to spend the night there because it was no longer possible to distinguish between the soldiers and the civil aids. Samir al -Tarhuni said that he did not go to the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior because there were about 100 soldiers from his troop and the barracks was on fire. Between 1:30 pm and 2 pm, Lieutenant Ayman al-Saadani who was in charge of the Interior Minister protection, told him that he had received instructions directly from Jalal Boudarika, the Director-General of the intervention units, asking him to load the weapons and be ready to shoot. Samir ordered him to remove the real bullets and launch CS gas to keep the protesters away from the Ministry of Interior. In the meantime he learned over the radio about the presence of protesters near the airport, so he contacted the agent Hafez al-Aouni who works in the planes protection team, and asked him what is going on at the airport so the latter told him that “the whole group is here” referring to the Trabelsi family, and told him that they are planning to travel and then ended the call. He called him again and told him “keep them there, I’m coming” and then ended the call again and directly called his wife who works at the airport control tower and asked her if there were any plane that is taking off with a Trabelsi member on board, she told him that there is a plane that is taking off at the moment, he asked her to stop it and prevent it from leaving”.
His wife was worried and asked whose instructions are they, from above? He confirmed that the instructions were indeed from above. She told him that the plane will take off in 20 minutes so he can make sure to catch it before the time.
He gathered 10 agents armed with various weapons from pistols and machine guns and headed in a two-car-convoy to the airport. He told his aides not to use their weapons unless he says so. Around 2:50 he arrived at the airport and went directly to the VIP lounge where he was stopped by some aids working in civilian clothes so he told them firmly “Let us go in brothers and we promise not to fire any bullet” so out of fear, some of them replied “OK, OKcome in.” He then entered the VIP lounge and got out of it heading to the runway and found a minibus carrying a number of civilian men, women and children, and a large number of travel bags, then he saw two people willing to get on the bus, but as soon as they saw him, they ran away so two members of his troop followed and arrest them. When he got on the bus with two of his aides, he called his wife to ask her where is the plane that will transport Trabelsi family members and Ben Ali, she answered that it is in the place that is reserved for Tunisavia. He asked the bus driver to go to that place, where he found a private plane in front of which a presidential aide was standing, so he asked him sharply “Who is on the plane?” He answered him “Mr. Samir, Madame Serene Ben Ali and the Mabruk group” so he retorted, “Let it go, we do not need it” but he didn’t ask any of his aides to get on the plane and they all left the place to pursue their search.
In the interim, they knew that they were on the plane heading to Lyon in France in terminal No. 56; the bus driver knew where it was so two of his aides got on board for inspection but did not find any Trabelsi family member. He was in fact looking for the persons who were in the same bus where he was repeating “Forgive us but we are looking for different persons, we do not have a problem with you we just need the bus to arrest other people”. When he returned to the VIP lounge, he spoke violently to the aids working on the plane’s protection, asking them about the family members so they answered that they are the ones who were with him in the bus. He then felt some relief because he had believed that his mission had failed and ordered to get them out of the bus and bring them into the VIP lounge.
At the time, Zouhair al-Bayati arrived so he told him “Zouhair, the instructions are from above, do not let any member of the family travel, and do not take any risks” so Zouhair told him back “Samir what are you doing?... whose instruction?” Samir told him “from above, instructions from above”. He then asked him to go with him to a side office, where Monsef al-Trabelsi was hiding so he took him to the VIP lounge, and Zouhair Al-Bayati asked him again about the source of the instructions. At that moment, Zouhair received a phone call from Imad Trabelsi who told him that he was about to arrive to the airport so the former asked Samir al-Tarhuni about what he should answer so he told him to lead him in a normal way to enter the airport and indeed Imad Trabelsi arrived.
Then Zouhair al-Bayati received a phone call from Ali Asseryati, the head of the president’s security, he handed him the phone after telling him that Asseryati gave him direct orders to do so. In the meantime, he saw many army helicopters about to airdrop some special units elements; He thought that they were preparing an attack so he requested reinforcements so his troops can join him at the airport for fear of confrontation. General Jalal Boudarika, the Director-General of the intervention units arrived and went towards Samir al -Tarhuni and told him “What are you doing and who told you to stop them? Ali Asseryati sent you?” so he answered, “Yes Ali Asseryati” and after he had the proof he talked to him again and insisted on knowing who gave him the instructions “Who sent you Samir? Who?” Samir al-Tarhuni replied “They stole the country, they left nothing here and you want them to run away? Nobody will get on the plane, why do you keep on asking me who sent me? I came alone!”, Boudarika replied “Do you want to kill me too?” He answered “no”, saying “You are our boss and will always be, we do not want and we are not here to shed blood” so Boudarika asked “if I'm your boss, leave them and let them travel” then Samir answered “You are my boss and I highly respect you but they will not travel”.
Samir al-Tarhuni contacted the Lieutenant-Colonel, Arabi al-Akhal, the head of the National vanguard and asked him to come to the airport because there are instructions from above demanding the arrest of the Trabelsi family. Forty aide troops arrived at the airport to join Samir al-Tarhuni team and at 5 pm another troop of 20 elements belonging to the fast intervention unit joined them and began to show off their powers outside the VIP lounge. Samir al-Tarhuni was asking Jalal Boudarika to contact his administration and tell them that he wants to hand over Trabelsi family to General Rachid Ammar and he asked Arabi al-Akhal to turn off his phone and not to answer any questions from anyone.
Meanwhile, Zouhair al-Bayati told him that the crew on the presidential plane wants to go the hangar in the al-Ouainia barracks and if they were allowed to pass, so al-Tarhuni replied “Let them pass, they have nothing to do with me”. Around 5:50 pm, the presidential plane took off, and they stayed in the VIP lounge with about 28 members of Trabelsi and Ben Ali families. Al-Tarhuni stressed that he will only hand over the members to Rachid Ammar so Boudarika told him that there is a military bus heading to the VIP lounge to take the family members. In the meantime, he was informed that the Prime Minister Mohamed Al-Ghannouchi was about to deliver a speech to the people on TV so he went to watch it and he knew that Mohamed Al-Ghannouchi was made caretaker President temporarily, and while the military bus was in front of the VIP lounge, Arabi al-Akhal gave him his mobile phone and told him that Adnan Al-Hattab says that the Prime Minister is on the phone and he wanted to talk to him, as soon as he took the phone, Adnan al-Hattab said, “Do you accept to talk to the new President?”
He answered “Of course I do,” and he said directly, “All my respects Mr. President” but Mohamed Al-Ghannouchi interrupted him and said “I am the Prime Minister” so he answered again “All my respects Mr. Prime Minister” so he replied literally “I have become by virtue of the Constitution the President temporarily and I want to know your intentions and your program, who will be in charge? You or someone else?”
Tarhuni answered him “Excuse me Mr. President, we are working under your command and the command of our chiefs, and I arrested this gang and I want to hand them over to Rachid Ammar”.
The Prime Minister replied, “May god be with you”. The media team arrived to broadcast the process of the handing over and the bus was escorted until it arrived to the military barracks in al-Ouainia.
Samir al-Tarhuni intended to detain family members to compromise President Ben Ali to step down from power.
General Jalal Boudarika - Director General of the intervention units
He was following the latest developments from the Ministry of Interior with the rest of the security chiefs, and he was in constant coordination with the Minister of the Interior. The situation began to deteriorate where the number of demonstrators has reached seventy thousand demonstrators and it seemed there was a clear threat to the Ministry of Interior. The instructions of Interior Minister Ahmad Fariaa were to use rods and CS gas instead of real bullets to disperse demonstrators who were about to break into the Ministry of Interior. At 4pm, General Boudarika headed from the Ministry of Interior to the airport after a phone call from the Director General of National Security asking him to go to the Office of the Minister of Interior where he found him with General Rachid Ammar. The minister of Interior told him literally: "My brother, do you have a group related to the anti-terrorism that you have sent to the airport on a mission?”. He answered that he had no idea about it and that he did not send any one, and then he added that he will prove it so he called Samir al-Tarhuni and asked him about his whereabouts, the latter replied that he was at the airport accompanied by two divisions belonging to the anti-terrorism troop. Boudarika asked him aloud “Who sent you? and what are you doing at the airport?” so he replied “Everything is fine and all the family here wants to travel but no one will” so Boudarika repeated his question: “Who gave you the instructions?”.
He told him that he would tell him later on but under the persistence of Boudarika, he revealed that al-Tarhuni gave him the instructions, so Boudarika told the minister of interior Ahmad Fariaa what al-Tarhuni had told him; those who were present there were surprised by the seriousness of the situation, especially that President Ben Ali is still at the presidential palace in Carthage. General Rachid Ammar asked Jalal Boudarika to go by himself to the airport to clear things up and inform him about the recent developments. Indeed, he arrived at the airport at around 4:15 and again Boudarika insisted in his tough conversation with Samir al-Tarhuni to know whose instructions were they, but al-Tarhuni evaded the answer without giving a clear answer and told him “They tumbled-down the country, and we will not let them go”. While Boudarika and Samir al-Tarhuni were discussing the matter, the vanguard troop, led by Arabi al-Akhal arrived and both al-Akhal and al-Tarhuni exchanged the greetings and he said to him “we have coordinated with each other” and Boudarika noticed that al-Tarhuni’s men were ready to shoot at any moment. The atmosphere was tense and Al-Tarhuni men and the guards were wearing wool masks. He informed the Director-General of the National Security about what happened and Samir al-Tarhuni told him “I feel that I have done a great job” and added “you know that we love you and we do not like to hurt you and you'll see that everybody will thank us for our accomplishment especially that we will not attack anybody and we will not use weapons”. Then Samir al-Tarhuni pointed his finger up and said aloud, “the president left and the others will not travel”.
Guards hugged their colleagues from the anti-terrorism troop upon arriving at the airport.
Al-Tarhuni requested the presence of the media to film the process of handing over the family to army.
At 6:30, the military bus arrived but Samir refused to hand them over except in the presence of the media team.
After Samir al-Tarhuni’s phone call with Ghannoushi, he said aloud, “The new president called me and told me to hand the Trabelsi family to the army.”
The media team arrived, so Samir Al-Tarhuni organized the teams in ranks to film the process.
Zouhair al-Bayati received instructions to retain the tape which the media team had filmed.
General Rachid Ammar was watching the operation carefully and asked to keep Samir Al-Tarhuni away from his unit.
Samir Al-Tarhuni was called to the State Security under the orders of General Rachid Ammar; he was questioned and then released from custody at night.
Fathi Jaziri - Officer accompanying Sirine, Ben Ali’s daughter
At 2 pm on January14, Sirine Ben Ali asked him to take her to Tunis Carthage International airport and asked him for a second car for protection. Sirine, her son Yassin and her daughter Sarah got into a four-wheel drive Mercedes and headed to Tunis-Carthage International airport where there is Tunisavia’s hangar. They arrived at 2:30 pm, and Sirine handed her son and daughter’s passports to fulfil purposes for travel procedure. Some members of Mabrouk family where in that private plane and after about 15 minutes, a bus annexed to Tunisia Airlines parked next to the plane where a group of passengers were on board, accompanied by four members of anti-terrorism troop all dressed in special black uniforms and carrying automatic weapons. They immediately got out of the bus and surrounded the plane from all sides and then one of them, who was Samir Al-Tarhuni asked about Belhessen plane, and about the identity of the people who were with him, and the guard replied that they are members of Mabrouk family in addition to Sirine, the president's daughter and her children. Sirine asked “Who are they and what do they want?” and he told her that they are the intervention team related to the Ministry of Interior and they are asking about Belhessen Trabelsi plane. She then asked for travel collective stamp because she had decided to travel with her children.
Fathi saw Sirine Ben Ali using her mobile to make a phone call and then received a call from Marwan al-Mabrouk, who asked him if the plane had taken off, asking him to inform him when it does, and so he did.
Marwan al-Mabrouk asked him to go and meet him at the Palace of Carthage and upon his arrival to the presidential palace Fathi contacted al-Mabrouk to tell him that he has arrived so the latter told him to go to the Presidential department, where the president's office is. He stayed there until he heard the maid calling upon him “Where is Fathi?”. She took him to President Ben Ali’s office where he met in front of the office Marwan Mabrouk who asked him about what happened at the airport and asked him to tell the full story to the president, then he went into the office of the President and after a short period of time, President Ben Ali came out wearing a light colored blouse and a tie and went directly to Marwan Al-Mabrouk and asked “Where is the man who accompanied Sirine?” so Fathi raised his hand immediately and then the president asked him for the details. He listened to him till the end without interrupting him, and asked him “Who are these people?” so he replied “They are anti-terrorist troops related to the police to which Ben Ali just said,“chaos chaos.”
Mohammed al-Arabi al-Akhal – Head of the vanguards National troop
Four troops of the National Guard were sent to secure the presidential palace from the outside on January14, and some elements who were present near the palace informed al-Akhal about conflicting instructions related to shooting on a helicopter but later on, opposite instructions, they also reported the state of turmoil and chaos that was visible on the Presidential security agents and troops that they are in charge of coordination with. He was working with three troops when Samir al-Tarhuni, who is a good friend of his, contacted him and told him that he was at the airport and the Trabelsi family was with him, and asked him to join him so he withdrew the four troops that were protecting the presidential palace and asked them to go to the airport. He then sent a troop to the National Guard barracks in al-Ouainia and arrived at the airport between 4 pm and 5 pm.
Mohammed al-Sebai – Major in the Presidential Security Department, Head of the Marine troop in the Palace
His responsibility is to monitor the sides that are overlooking the sea in each of the Palace of Carthage and Sidi al-Drif presidential residence.
On January 12, he received a call from Ali Asseryati who asked him about the status of the Alisseh yacht and demanded to prepare it for a possible cruise to the Hamamet, so he filled it with nearly 1800 liters of fuel.
On January 14, he was appointed as a convoy officer and he was in charge of the security of President Ben Ali’s departure from the presidential palace in Sidi al-Drif to the one in Carthage. At 11 o’clock he received instructions directly from his boss Elias al-Zallak, asking him to prepare Alisseh yacht and at 1 o’clock he received instructions from Elias to go to Sidi al-Drif, but he called Ali Asseryati, who asked him to stay where he was. Ali was surprised by the state of confusion and chaos that took place and told him not to leave the place.
The Marine department in the Presidential security received a marine boat from the Marine Frontier troop in Halak al-Wad port, to use it at 3:30 on January 14. It was a speedboat named Saqr 17.
Riad Mabrouky- presidential security officer - Facts
He was following the news of the current events from the radio room and he received many calls speaking of intentions of attack on the presidential palace, the sound of gunfire was sometimes heard during the call(s).
He listened to strict instructions over the radio asking “all units, the orders of “Samed 1”, are to strike the plane coming towards you”.
‘Samed 1’ is the code name of Ali Asseryati on the radio. At that time, everybody was confused in the palace and they all left in a state of chaos, asking the aids deployed in high places, but no one had seen the plane.
A plane was flying over Halak al-Wadi in the level of Radas Bridge, and after about ten minutes, he saw the presidential convoy rushing off.
He entered the palace and the presidential security was in chaos after the departure of the president's convoy. Everybody was terrified by the plane and the protesters’ attack on the presidential palace.
He called his son-in-law who works in the Tunisian television, Abdul Haq al-Tarshouni, and told him that President Ben Ali had escaped in an attempt to inform the people that the President is not in the palace in order to prevent any attack on them.
Tewfik Kasmi- Director of common interests and social work in the presidential security general directorate
During Ali Asseriaty’s stay with President Ben Ali in Dubai from September 23 to the 28, Tewfik Kasmi was managing the directorate on his behalf and keeping him abreast of the latest developments. On January 13, Ali Asseriaty called Kasmi to inquire about the quantity of tear gas grenades in stock, so Kasmi contacted the weapons department chief and asked him to hold an inventory of the weapons and submit the list directly to Ali Asseriaty. And indeed, the arms department chief made the inventory and delivered it to Asseriaty, so the latter gave him instructions to provide the Carthage security service with 200 tear gas grenades in advance.
On January 14, Kasmi arrived to work at 8 o’clock and around 11:30, he received a call from Ali Asseriaty, the presidential security chief, who literally told him “There’s a load of gas grenades arriving on a private jet, send the arms department chief to coordinate with Zuhair Biyati and collect the goods”.
So Kasmi Called Captain Hadi Jabri, the arms department chief and advised him, so the latter went to Tunis – Cartage International Airport where he met with Zuheir Beyati, the airport commander and they both headed for the VIP lounge. A Libyan military “Challenger 300” aircraft had landed there, driven by an American pilot accompanied with a Libyan officer who delivered the grenades. Kasmi inquired the officer about the quantity of grenades sent but the latter didn’t know the exact the number. So Tewfik Kasmi asked him to take the count. Meanwhile, Ali Asseriaty called to inquiring about the arrival of the grenades so Kasmi informed him that Captain Hadi Hbari had accomplished his mission and that the grenades were being counted at the arms department. Thus, Asseriaty told him “tell him to count them quickly and to bring me a sample from each type of grenades and then to come quickly to my office, I am waiting for him”. So they executed Asseriaty’s instructions, then Captain Hbari told Kasmi that Asseriaty had instructed him to give 1500 shells to the intervention forces including 400 tear gas hand grenades, 400 b2 smoke bombs, 350 38 caliber smoke grenades and 360 plastic shells. Captain Hbari distributed the munitions and informed Ali Asseriaty of his accomplishment at 1:30 in the afternoon.
At around 3:30 in the afternoon, Kasmi bumped into Ali Asseriaty accompanied by the presidential chief of protocol Mohsen Rahim. He noticed that Ali Asseriaty was in a hurry and seemed concerned, at around 4 o’clock, he saw him leaving his office in the general administration with Mohsen Rahim and heading for the presidential cabinet.
After the news of the president’s and Asseriaty’s departure from the palace had spread, fear took over amongst presidential security agents in the light of the threats they were subjected to, especially after they had received information on a potential protesters attack against the presidential palace (this detail was provided by all presidential security officers).
Kasmi left his office at around 6:15 in the afternoon and found all the presidential security cadres gathered in the parking lot including Sami Sik Salem who affirmed to Kasmi that the president left the country. Kasmi asked if Asseriaty had left with the president so Sik Salem answered that he had tried to contact him on his phone but Asseriaty was not answering.
Sik Salem also informed Kasmi that he called Adnan Hattab who told him to search for a place to hide and save himself. Kasmi accompanied Sik Salem who preached to the agents gathered in the palace’s square and said: “I want you to be men. We are serving our country Tunisia and not president Ben Ali. The president fled the country and Asseriaty is not answering his phone … we are the ones in charge now”.
Then Kasmi asked Sik Salem about the adopted measures and the latter told him that he called Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi but couldn’t contact the House Speaker, Fouad Mebazaa. So Kasmi told Sik Salem that he knows where Mebazaa lives and would go to bring him. And indeed, Kasmi headed for Fouad Mebazaa’s house and as soon as the car parked in front of the house, Mebazaa got into the car and was aware of the situation. Mr. Mebazaa arrived to the presidential palace and headed for the office of the operations room chief that was prepared to shoot the statement delivered to the Tunisian people. After Fouad Mebazaa had been informed of the latest events, he refused to take office as president and said: “I am sick and incapable of handling this responsibility, when Prime Minister Al-Ghannouchi arrives, we will decide”.
Meanwhile, the operations room contacted Samir Abidi, the minister of communication who was asked to broadcast the news as follows: “ a historical speech addressed to the Tunisian people”. However the minister asked to speak with someone in charge so the call was transferred to Kasmi who informed him about the critical security situation and literally told him: “This is Tewfik Kasmi, a high police governor, the president fled the country and the situation is very critical. The Prime Minister and the House Speaker will deliver a speech to the Tunisian people and we ask you to broadcast the news that a historical speech will address the Tunisian people until things settle down”.
So the minister approved and then Fouad Mebazaa arrived at the presidential cabinet followed by the Head of the Senate Abdullah Kallel. Afterwards, as soon as Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi arrived, Tewfik Kasmi approached him in a bid to explain the situation for him but Ghannouchi told him that he was aware of the situation. Then he took the constitution booklet from his pocket and took out a sheet of paper where he had written his speech and literally said: “We will consider this as a temporary presidential void according to chapter 56 and we will wait to have a clearer view of the situation and see how things will go”.
Then Al-Ghannouchi delivered his speech with Abdullah Kallel and Fouad Mebazaa at his side. All those who were present in the room refused to entrust Abdullah Kallel with the task of president after Fouad Mebazaa had refused to takeover power as president. After the statement was filmed, Sergeant Habib May was instructed to deliver the videotape to the Tunisian television channel. Tewfik Kasmi stayed in the palace having a follow up on the phone with the driver while the prime minister, Abdullah Kallel and Fouad Mebazza headed for a room with a television and waited to watch the video.
After the statement, in which the Prime Minister declared that he would take over as a president, had been broadcasted, Ghannouchi received a phone call from President Ben Ali who blamed him for that move but the prime minister told him that he came to the presidential palace upon the request of the presidential security service and said: “Mr. President, we came to the palace upon the instructions of the presidential security service. We did not betray you and we will always work under your command. This is the truth, if you are bothered by the statement I shall retract it and you come back to your seat whenever you want”.
Then the Prime Minister passed the phone to Colonel Adnan Hattab but the line cut off. The Prime Minister asked to film a retraction that cancels the first statement in which he had declared to take over presidency but meanwhile, President Ben Ali called again on Hassan Wartani, the usher, mobile phone and talked to the Prime Minister. Anger showed on Ghannouchi’s face after he had heard the president’s abusive words and was constantly defending himself by saying: “we really didn’t betray you, the security service brought us here. You are our president and you can come back whenever you want”. Ghannouchi then handed the phone to Fouad Mebazza who literally said: “There’s nothing going on, there’s a constitutional void and Mr. Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi took over as an interim president. You can come back whenever you want”.
When Abdullah Kallel took the phone, he said to everybody: “Please leave us alone to talk with the president”. So everybody went out of the office but they were able to overhear Kallel literally saying: “Mr. President, the presidential security agents brought us here by force. We are under huge pressure but we cannot betray you. We are held here by force in the hands of the presidential security service”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ghannouchi received a phone call from Rida Grira, the national defense minister, on his cell phone. President Ben Ali called back on his usher Hassan Wartani‘s cell phone but Sami Sik Salem refused to pass any calls. Furthermore, Salem received a phone call from Rachid Ammar who asked him about the highest ranking security official so Sami Sik Salem told him that the highest ranking official was Colonel Adnan Hattab. Thus, Ammar orally entitled Hattab of taking charge of the situation. Afterwards, Abdullah Kallel and Fouad Mebazaa left the presidential palace while Adnan Hattab asked the Prime Minister if he desired to spend the night in the palace or to go back home. So the latter asked to return home.
Although the Prime Minister intended to retract his first statement, the presidential security service, precisely Sami Sik Salem, insisted on keeping the first statement.
Al Hadi Jabari – chief of weapons department in the presidential security service
On January 14th, at around 8:30 in the morning, Jabari’s direct chief, Tewfik Kasmi asked him in a phone call to go to the Tunis- Carthage international airport and coordinate with the airport commander, Zuheir Beyati, to receive a quantity of tear gas grenades without précising the exact number of munitions. So Jabari, headed for the airport at around 10:30 and at around 10:45, Zuheir Beyati asked him to go to the VIP lounge. At around 11:15, a small challenger 300 airplane landed at the airport, driven by a pilot called Louis, with Ramadan Tewfik, a supervisor and his assistant Hassan Khachba, of Libyan nationality, on board. When the supervisor got down from the plane, he literally said: “Where is Asseriaty, I have goods to deliver to him”. So Zuheir Beyati told him that they were there on behalf of Asseriaty and received 8 wooden boxes containing 1902 tear gas grenades. He then advised his direct chief, Tewfik Kasmi of the exact quantity of grenades so the latter asked him to call Ali Asseriaty and inform him. And indeed, he headed to Asseriaty’s office and handed him the inventory of the received grenades. Thus, Asseriaty asked him to deliver 1500 grenades to a patrol affiliated to the ministry of the interior while the remaining quantity was kept in the custody of the presidential security general directorate.
Omar Sleimi – phone operator at the presidential palace
Omar Sleimi worked on calls exchange January 14 from 8 in morning till 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
President Ben Ali received several calls on that day from Ali Asseriaty, Abdul Aziz Ben Dia, the minister of interior Ahmed Fria, the minister of defense Rida Grira and Mohsen Rahim, the presidential security chief.
Belkacem Ben Saood, another phone operator who worked during the night shift from 1 o’clock in the afternoon till 7 o’clock in the evening said he received many phone calls from different parts of the country, mainly distress calls. He noted that the advisors and the officials working at the presidential palace had been absent for the last two days. He did not receive any call that night from officials working in the palace and at around 4:45 in the afternoon, he knew that President Ben Ali left the Carthage palace, ignoring the direction for which they headed.
Mohammed BouKazba – director of a subsidiary administration for communication in the presidential palace
The president’s usher, Hassan Wartani, told Boukazba that President Ben Ali was about to follow the manifestation in Habib Bourgiba Avenue up on the television with his daughter Ghazwa and his two sons in law Salim Zarouk and Marwan Mabrouk.
Marwan Mabrouk – the president’s son-in-law, Sirine Ben Ali’s husband
On January 13 2011, at around 10 o’clock in the morning, Ghazwa Ben Ali, his wife’s Sirine sister and her husband Salim Zarouk arrived to Mabrouk’s house. They talked about the country’s situation and agreed on the need to talk with President Ben Ali and convince him of the necessity to hold premature presidential elections and release all the detainees arrested for having posted publications on the internet . At around 11 o’clock in the morning, they headed to the Carthage presidential palace where they met President Ben Ali and informed him of what had been agreed. So the president called in their presence Ali Asseriaty and asked him to order the release of the detainees for internet posts.
At around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, Mabrouk left the palace to meet his wife and on January 14, he came back to the presidential palace at around 11:30 where he stayed till around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. When he met with President Ben Ali, he reassured him that the situation would get better. He also received a call from one of his brothers asking him if he desired to send his sons to France. In the light of the fear he read on President Ben Ali’s and Ali Asseriaty’s faces, he was haunted by fear over his sons’ fate.
His fear intensified when he watched Ben Ali and Ali Asseriaty talking in the presidential hallway but he couldn’t figure out the content of their conversation. At around 12:30 in the afternoon, Mabrouk called his brother Mohammed and asked him to send their sons and wives to France on his private jet since the security situation was highly tensed and dangerous. He also received phone calls from some of his friends inquiring him about the truth of Belhassan Trebilsi’s departure from the country. The flowing information indicated that Belhassan Trebilsi fled on his boat through the recreational port in Sidi Bou Said. Asseriaty inquired about the matter and confirmed the information. Mabrouk then called his wife Sirine who was intending to leave the country and even prepared her sons to send them to their uncle.
After discussing with his wife, Sirine agreed to leave the country but her departure had been hampered because his wife did not have the travel tax stamp on her passport. Thus, Marwan Mabrouk received the news of his wife’s plane departure from her personal security guard who informed him that before the plane had took off, his wife got surrounded by masked agents in black combat uniforms searching for the Trebilsi family. After they had verified her identity, they allowed the plane to take off.
So he informed President Ben Ali and Ali Asseriaty of his wife’s departure and asked the personal guard to go to the Carthage presidential palace. When the agent arrived to the palace, Mabrouk took him to meet Ben Ali and Asseriaty to whom the agent related the detailed happenings at the airport. Mabrouk saw Asseriaty talking on his phone next to the president in the hallway. Asseriaty then told the president that a helicopter was heading for the palace and was pointing his hand at the sea. He issued instructions to shoot the helicopter as soon as it approaches the palace. Ali Asseriaty was occasionally approaching the president and talking to him in a low voice. At that precise moment, Marwan Mabrouk felt that the situation had become highly critical.
He intended to leave the palace before he heard President Ben Ali giving instructions to Ali Asseriaty and saying: “I want you to escort them to the airport” without alerting him who the concerned people were. So Marwan Mabrouk asked President Ben Ali: “Where will I spend the night?” to which he answered: “The situation is normal, you can stay at your house, there’s nothing to fear”.
Mabrouk then informed the president that he would go and visit his mother to check on her and left the presidential palace between 4:15 and 4:30 in the afternoon. When he was in the palace, he saw Halima, Ben Ali’s daughter, and her fiancé Mahdi Ben Kayed. Halima was crying.
Nayla Abdel Kafi – the presidential residence palace supervisor
On January 12, 2011, President Ben Ali was having breakfast at 7:30 in the morning. Nayla Abdel Kafi accidentally heard the president talking on the phone and literally saying: “ Shoot, shoot and protect the facilities”.
On the evening of that day, the Trebilsi family, Leila Trebilsi’s brothers, sisters and their sons, arrived at the presidential palace in Sidi Al-Drif. They all gathered in the palace’s hall and Leila Ben Ali was describing the situation as simple, repeatedly referring to indecent and vulgar words. The palace was set to receive the Trabelsi family for an overnight stay in the palace that evening. On the 13th of January, Nayla Abdel Kafi arrived to her workplace at 7 o’clock in the morning and she noticed that president Ben Ali arrived to the palace at lunch time. He was with his daughters Sirine and Ghazwa who didn’t usually visit the President in Bou Al-Drif Palace and meet Leila Trabelsi.
The president went back to work in the presidential palace in Carthage, followed by Nisrine and Ghazwa, his daughters. Leila Ben Ali headed for the suite where her family members were having lunch alone. Leila Ben Ali asked Nayla Abdel Kafi to send three boxes of candles to the president’s office in Carthage palace, so Nayla sent the boxes. Then Leila Trebilsi called her to make sure she had accomplished her mission and asked her to bring some equipments and furniture from the presidential palace and prepare them in case her family wanted to stay at the palace. Leila Ben Ali also asked her to prepare her private Limousine then headed to the president’s office in the Carthage presidential palace, accompanied by escort officers. Afterwards, Leila Ben Ali returned to Sidi Al-Drif palace with her husband Ben Ali after he had finished recording his televised statement.
On January 14, at around 7 o’clock in the morning, Nayla Abdel Kafi met the president in front of the elevator at the presidential palace of Sidi Al-Drif. The president was tense, so she asked if anything was wrong. The president replied: “I am fine, Inshallah”.
On the morning of that day, the presidential palace in Sidi Al-Drif witnessed the visits of many Trebilsi family members. Leila Trebilsi called Nayla after she had awakened and asked her to prepare breakfast and bring it to her room. Nayla informed Leila Ben Ali that her nephew Houssam and his family had arrived to the palace. Everybody gathered in the palace’s hall and they all seemed agitated and had numerous phone calls. Then, Belhacen Trabelsi left the palace in a hurry, got inside his Hummer car and left at high speed. Leila Trabelsi was meanwhile shouting on the palace’s phone speaker and saying: “ call me on the extension number 501”. She then called Nayla and asked her to quickly bring her bag. So Nayla asked the Filipina maid to take the bag to Leila Ben Ali’s room and then went out to see the Trabelsi family members leaving. They all gathered and asked for cars to drive them to the airport. Suddenly, panic took over the Trebilsi Family. Nayla heard Houssam Trabelsi yelling with his cell phone in his hand: “ the family members were arrested at the airport and couldn’t get on the plane. You need to wait.” He was in a hysteric situation. Then the Filipina maid called Nayla and told her that Leila Ben Ali is asking for more bags. So Nayla sent her 7 suitcases to her room.
Nayla then received a phone call from Kamal Bdeiri, the president’s personal butler who told her that the president had asked him to travel with Leila Ben Ali. He asked her if she could send a car to drive him to his house to bring his clothes, but Nayla told him that the whole family was asking for cars and there were no more cars available. Nayla asked him if the Madame was really intending to travel and then called the Filipina maid and asked her to meet her at Leila Ben Ali’s room. She found Leila collecting and packing her clothes, mainly the fancy traditional dresses. Leila asked Nayla to send some of the clothes in the bags to her house. Nayla went down from Leila’s room and found Halima Ben Ali crying next to her fiancé Mahdi Ben Kayed. Halima literally told Nayla: “here I am leaving everything to the Trebilsi woman”. She then left the palace with her fiancé in a q7 Audi.
Nayla then went up to Leila’s clothing room and found her at the point of closing a 1m long brown suitcase filled with banknotes and money. Leila asked her to tell the maid to take the bags downstairs. Afterwards, directly after the suitcases were moved, Leila Ben Ali left the palace with her son Mohammed Zene Abidin and two Filipina maids. Leila Trebilsi then called Nayla from the presidential office phone and said: “I forgot my jacket, send me my jacket and my handbag”. Nayla then heard Ali Asseriaty’s angry voice saying: “We do not have time to think of your jacket and your bag Madame”.
Nayla also received a call from Kamal Bdeyri, the president’s butler, who asked her to send Mohammed Zene Abidine’s laptop but she said she couldn’t. She asked him if the president had left and he answered: “yes”. Meanwhile, Leila Trebilsi personnel driver arrived and told Nayla : “you can go home now, the family left the country”.
So Nayla called the president’s usher, Hassan Wartani, and asked if the president had really departed and if she could close the palace’s door. Wartani answered: “The president will be back”. Nayla called the housekeepers and asked them to close the palace’s rooms. She entered Leila Ben Ali’s room where she found her handbag filled with some jewelry and European banknotes. The room was in a mess. That night, the security service officers did not allow them to leave the palace. On the 15th of January, at around 11:30 , Nayla received a phone call from Saoodi Arabia, form Mahdi Ben Kayed, Halima’s fiancé. He told her that everything was fine but then her husband ordered her not to answer the phone because the president was no longer the president. She received many phone calls on her cell phone from Saoodi Arabia and couldn’t answer. But around 2 o’clock, she headed to the dining room and answered her phone. It was President Ben Ali who told her: “Why aren’t you answering my calls, you forgot me already?” she replied: “I had a tough night”. In the middle of her conversation with the president, her husband took her mobile and hung up. Later that evening, her son answered a call on the house’s telephone. It was Leila Ben Ali asking about his mom. But he immediately hung up.
Mahdi Ben Kayed – Fiancé of Halima Ben Ali – Ben Ali’s youngest daughter
Mahdi Ben Kayed’s relationship with the president is normal. They often talked about new technology since the president was fond of electronic video games. He used to download the games on his iphone and spend hours playing and watching mbc action. Mahdi noticed that Leila Trabelsi is the mastermind behind all the president’s decisions specially those related to family business projects and her economic interests. She intended to make her husband seem authoritarian in all matters. Mahdi had already witnessed a talk between President Ben Ali and his daughter Nisrine on the 12th or 13th of January 2011. (Nisrine is Sakher Matiri’s wife, President Ben Ali’s daughter). In that conversation, Nisrine was asking her father to put an armed military helicopter in the presidential palace of Sidi Dhrif to protect the palace from a potential threat. But the president replied: “Enough my daughter, there’s no need for that”. On January 14 Mahdi noticed that Leila Trabelsi was always making phone calls to Ali Asseriaty, the presidential chief of protocol and to her brothers. She was also receiving calls from them in which they expressed their fear from the situation. On the 13th of January, his fiancée Halima told him that some Trabelsi family members, especially woman, had come to the presidential palace at Sidi Dhrif and settled in the palace’s lower ground.
He was surprised by the news that Halima hid from her father upon the request of her mother Leila. At lunch time, President Ben Ali arrived to Sidi Dhrif with Nisrine Ben Ali and Belhessen Trabelsi. Mahdi stayed in the lobby where Leila Ben Ali had proposed to watch the president’s speech that was filmed in the presidential palace. They watched the statement on the Tunisian TV newscast while President Ben Ali kept silence then went to his bedroom. Fatigue and stress were showing on his face. Mahdi watched the speech and then went with Halima, his fiancée, to the palace’s garden.
He heard gunfire, so his fiancé called Ali Asseriaty directly and informed him about the situation, but the latter told her that what she heard was fireworks. Mahdi entered the kitchen to eat and saw Ahmad Trabelsi in the stairs leading to the lower level of Sidi Dhrif palace. Mahdi spent the night at the palace.
On January 14, 2011, he woke up at around 10 o’clock and stayed in the palace with Muhammad Zene Abidine Ben Ali. Muhammad was in the company of another boy, Ziad Gheryani, his friend’s son. Mahdi then had lunch with his fiancé and added that he was not accustomed to spending the day with her family. Halima was already informed by the backdoor guard that some of the Trabelsi’s arrived to the palace, including Seif Trabelsi and Islam Mahjoub. Mahdi’s father called him on his cell phone and checked on him then asked him to return home.
Leila Trabelsi was packing her personal belongings in some suitcases. She seemed odd; she walked quickly and ran from one room to the another. Mahdi heard her shouting sometimes when talking with the maids. He asked his fiancée Halima to go with him to his house located at Al Manar II. On their way out of the palace, they saw many Trabelsi’s cars parked in front of the palace so one of the escort officers told them that the security situation was deteriorating and that it was dangerous to drive for long distances. Thus, he went with his fiancée Halima and the esort agents to the Carthage presidential palace. When they reached President Ben Ali’s office, they found Marwan Mabrouk in the office, with the president.
Hassan Wartani, the president’s usher was standing at the office’s door and Ali Asseriaty was at the end of the corridor leading to the president’s office, talking on his cell phone with someone, Mahdi couldn’t identify. The situation was tensed. As soon As Mabrouk left the office, Mahdi entered with Halima. The president was wearing a blue shirt and a blue tie stripped with navy blue lines. He asked his daughter if she had packed to which she replied: “Why would I pack father?” He then said: “Didn’t your mother tell you that you will go with her and your brother to perform Umrah in Saudi Arabia?”.
She answered: “Why didn’t you tell me? And why aren’t you coming with me?”
“I will stay here” he replied.
She said: “No father, you need to come with us, don’t leave us alone”.
He replied: “Listen to me, don’t argue with me. I have work to do. You need to go and pack your things; Ali Asseriaty and Mohsen Rahim will go with you to Umrah. Before heading for the airport, pass by me with your mother and brother to say goodbye.”
Meanwhile, Ayad Wardani, the presidential cabinet chief, entered the office and delivered a paper to President Ben Ali. As soon as Wardani left, Halima started to cry. Mahdi and Halima then headed for the presidential palace in Sidi Dhrif where Halima packed her suitcase. Mahdi helped her with his suitcase, which was present at the palace since his return from France on January 11, 2011. He also felt fear and started crying. They met Ms. Mahjoub, the palace Housekeeper who took Halima in her arms. Then, Mahdi and Halima left the palace in their car and headed to the Carthage palace, escorted by Halima’s personal guards.
When they reached the backdoor of the presidential palace at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, Marwan Mabrouk intercepted them. He was on his way out of the presidential palace. He did not salute them and looked weird. Mahdi stayed in the president’s office corridor watching the usher, Hassan Wartani, standing at the door. Afterwards, Leila Trabelsi arrived to the palace and directly entered the office. Mahdi stayed outside with Muhammad Zene Abidine and his fiancée Halima. Ali Asseriaty was in the middle of a conversation on his cell phone in the office’s corridor when he suddenly shouted: “Come on, get out of the office”. So President Ben Ali opened his office’s door and stepped out with his wife Leila Asseriaty.
Ben Ali asked Asseriaty what was happening to which he replied: “You need to leave the palace, all of you! You too Mr. President”.
So Ben Ali literally said: “Why? What’s wrong? I told you I wasn’t traveling with them”.
Asseriaty replied: “Let us leave now and then discuss the matter. As usual, escort them to the airport and then we talk”.
Ben Ali kept asking him what was wrong so Asseriaty finally said: “There’s a gunboat shooting shells on the palace right now” so Ben Ali said “Ali, let us at least pass by the house in Sidi Bou Said and then we will take them to the airport” but Asseryati answered “Let's get out of here right now”.
While they were getting out in a hurry from that office and the hallway, towards the presidential car, Ali Asseryati said “follow me, follow me”. The convoy rushed to the airport and on the road, Asseryati who was driving a black Audi black hit a gray Polo but the convoy did not stop. They were driving in a very high speed and Ben Ali asked Leila, who was driving the Lincoln not to accelerate more. Mehdi was in the car that was carrying President Ben Ali and his son Mohamed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Halima, his fiancée. He was surprised that the presidential convoy had stopped in front of a blue iron door in front of a military barracks in al-Ouainia, where Asseryati started to blast the horn of his car but he did not succeed in opening the door. So he went out of his car and started to knock on the door with both hands and then opened the door. They entered the barracks, turned left and arrived to a large hangar containing a civilian aircraft, and there were some military helicopters parked in that large place. They got out of their cars and the presidential security agents who were wearing civilian clothes and some wearing bullet-proof jackets, did the same.
In the meantime, some members of Trabelsi family arrived and Leila Trabelsi went towards them and talked t them, President Ben Ali speaks was talking to Ali Asseryati near the plane runway. Asseryati was speaking on his mobile phone, and then told Ben Ali “You will travel with them, Mr. President,” Ben Ali replied, “No, I will not go with them, travel with them and I will stay here”. Ali Asseryati insisted that Ben Ali should leave with them. The president went to his wife who was standing with Trabelsi family and when he came close to them, some of them started to kiss his hand and said to him: “We love you Mr. President, do not leave us” so he withdrew and went to the runway the plane.
The Chief of Protocol, Mohsen Rahim was standing nearby but he did not say anything. Mahdi Ben Kayid was next to Halima who said to one of the aides present there “Give me your weapon, so I would kill them” but the aide did not say anything. Leila Trabelsi waved with her hand towards her family and specifically to Seif Trabelsi to get on the plane, and Halima intervened saying “Leave my dad, leave my dad! I will kill you”.
At that time, Asseryati shouted loudly “Madam, madam, Mr. President, get on the plane”. Mahdi was surprised because Asseryati was screaming while he was in a strange state of spasm. They got into the plane and Asseryati was holding a brown leather bag and then went up the tarmac, so President Ben Ali told him, “Ali how are we going to leave the country in this situation? You stay here, and I will accompany them then I will return”.
Subsequently, Asseryati inclined his head, kissed the President’s hands and said, “OK, OK”. Then he went down the tarmac and the plane’s door was closed. President Ben Ali and Leila remained at their places and Mahdi sat next to Halima, Mohamed and two Filipino maids. The president’s waiter Kamal Budeiri, remained seated in the rear-seat. An hour after the plane took-off, he spoke to the hostess Nadia, so she informed him that the Director-General of the Tunisian airline told her that the plane should be back to Tunisia as soon as they arrive in Jeddah, and he found that strange.
President Ben Ali, passed by them, carrying a piece of chocolate and handed it over to his son Mohamed Zine El Abidine. Ben Ali said “I spoke to Mohammed al-Ghannouchi and Rida Karira and they told me the situation is very bad”.
Then Mehdi Ben Kayid fell asleep and did not move much in the passageway of the plane, but before arriving in Jeddah he went to the cockpit, and asked the captain and his assistant about some lights that were visible on the soil of Saudi Arabia, and the pilot told him that they are fire flames from the oil fields.
Afterwards, the plane landed with difficulty because of bad weather, and President Ben Ali told the pilot and his assistant before leaving the plane, to wait for him to get back on January 15. “Wait for me two or three hours to make sure that they fine and then we will return to Tunisia” to which the pilot said OK.
Many Saudi officials received them and they were rushed to the Diyafa palace in Jeddah, where they entered the palace and spent the night there. On the next day Major Saood came at 2 pm and gave each one of them an iPhone smart phone and a Mobily sim. He warned them not to contact anybody except the members of the family and he also warned them not to contact the press, and not to make any political activity.
In the evening, he went out with his fiancee Halima, Leila Trabelsi and her son Mohamed Zine El Abidine, to the Red Sea mall in Jeddah where Leila Trabelsi bought a lot of male underwear and shirts. When they got back to the palace, they had dinner. President Ben Ali did not speak to anyone and he simply said “Don’t worry, everything is fine”.
On January 16 2011, the same Major Saood came and told the president that someone will come to take measurements in order to tailor clothes to his size. Ben Ali was taking good care of his son Mohammed, and he was seeking to register him in a French school in Jeddah, but the directors rejected the application because his school records were still in Tunisia. Ben Ali avoided watching international news channels, and a breaking news was broadcast on the Tunisian channel stating that a significant amount of money and jewelry at the presidential palace in Sidi al-Zarif were seized, and he was surprised. He then told his aides about it and Leila Trabelsi was enraged by the news so she threatened to take legal actions and said, “Is it normal to get into my house like that? I want a lawyer to raise a complaint on our behalf” so Ben Ali answered “they told us here in Saudi not to contact lawyers and the press”. On January 21, Mahdi, Halima, Leila Ben Ali and Souad went to Mecca, where the performed the rituals of Umrah.
No one noticed if Ben Ali or his wife called some people in Tunisia or abroad, or some people who were loyal to him. Ben Ali has only called his daughter Sirine to ask about her and he was nit even able to coordinate in order to obtain his son’s school record. Leila Trabelsi was communicating with her brother Belhessen Trabelsi via skype from her Filipino maid’s computer. Mahdi denied that the health of the President has deteriorated and refuted what the various media communicated about the issue. Even Ben Ali was surprised when Sirine called him to check on his health. Furthermore, the news about the president’s move to Abhar, the capital of Astir province in Saudi Arabia, is totally unproven.
Jamila al-Jouwayni – a housekeeper in the presidential palace in Sidi al-Drif
Since the night of January 12, 2011 members of Trabelsi family had started to arrive at the Presidential Palace in Sidi Al Drif. For this reason Layla al-Trabelsi asked Jamila to prepare them a place to sleep in. The women were accompanied by their children, they were so scared and they were repeating “they will kill us, they will kill us”. Jamila started to prepare the living room in the ground floor to receive them; she was also preparing coffee and milk. The arrival of the family members continued.
On the January 13, and once she had accomplished her duty, Jamila left the house at 6 am and handed the tasks to the Palace’s supervisor Nayla Mahjoub, before she went to the maids’ room to have a rest. Afterwards, she headed to the room of the child Mohammad Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to clean it. Meanwhile, the president came and asked her about his son Mohammad, she said: “he went to study” and he said: “Ok Ok”, before leaving towards the presidential palace. At the same time, Belhessen Trabelsi came and asked where his sister Layla might be, she told him that she is in her bedroom, he went there and closed the door behind him, and then Halima the president’s daughter followed them, she heard her crying and saying exactly: “Poor papa he was destroyed because of your brothers (the brothers of Layla Trabelsi, her mother). I am going to him now, and I will kill everybody with a gun, then she left towards her room followed by her fiancé Mahdi Ben Kayed who has been living in the palace since three days in the same room with Zein al-Abidin. At lunch time, the president came accompanied by his two daughters Sirine and Ghazwa, and together they had lunch before going towards the presidential palace in Carthage. The housekeeper stayed in the maids’ room that night.
On the morning of January 14, 2011 she went to the president’s room and cleaned it, while Layla al-Trabelsi went to the place where her brothers and members of family were present. Later on, she heard Layla al-Trabelsi shouting through a loud speaker: “girls, girls, bring on the luggage”, she knew that she was preparing herself to travel and she was not looking normal as she said literally: “hurry up, hurry up, they sieged us from the seaside, and they are willing to attack us”, the maid from Philippines informed the housekeeper that she will travel abroad with Layla al-Trabelsi, without giving any information regarding the destination, the palace’s keeper Nayla Mahjoub asked for her help in packing while she was opposed by both Halima and her Fiancé Mahdi Ben Kayed and they were both crying and not looking normal, and Halima said literally: “I have left you everything”, and they left the palace. At about 3:45, she heard the shouting of Layla ben Ali: “hurry up, hurry up, and come bring my luggage”. Afterwards, the members of al-Trabelsi family gathered and they were rushing and waiting for cars to pick them up.
Ahmad Fariaa – the Minister of Interior
On the January 12, at about 10:00am, the Minister of Interior received a phone call from the President of Republic, and the president Ben Ali told him literally: “the country is witnessing a state of turmoil … I did not know that the situation is that serious … they did not tell me the truth … the youth cannot bear more pressure and oppression … I decided to expel all those who contradicted me Abdel Wahab and Abdullah, Abdul Aziz Ben Diaa ... I think we might prosecute the corrupted ones in this country and that we might get in touch with parties belonging to the opposition. I am willing to start important political reforms and I think that you should provide us with your help. I would like to nominate you in the Ministry of Interior. He said: “I am a university student … I have no idea about security issues. He answered “no no … I will say this in a speech addressed to the people and that we are willing to nominate a clean university student for the Ministry of Interior and all this to prove my will and to implement the reforms I am willing to do… Ahmad Fariaa replied: “because it is so, I am one of Tunis’ soldiers”.
Ben Ali said “The Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghanouchi will call you so that your nomination will take place today”. At about 1:00pm, the director of the minister’s office called him and informed him that the nomination will take place at about 3:00 pm in the premises of the Ministry of Interior and Local development. Indeed, the nomination took place with the presence of the Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghanouchi and Rafik El Hajj Kasem, the Minister of Interior and some of the security leaders. After receiving his security functions, he did not find enough time to meet anyone except the Director of National Security, Adel al-Tueiri, the secretary of state for the public groups Manji Chouchan and the head of the Diwan Najib al-Trabelsi. He was receiving several calls from different regions informing him that the security situation is tense and that many public and security premises were subject to theft and fire. The minister issued a series of warnings aiming at putting an end to the violence, receiving the citizens and finding solutions to the current problems in addition to having discussions with them and trying to calm them. In fact, he did not have any idea about the security issues and the public directors of the security sectors were responsible of dealing with these issues because he was nominated lately for the Ministry of Interior and he had previously asked the head of the Diwan to give him the structural system of the ministry and to consider the 13th of January 2011 a day to receive public directors and to discuss the main issues that need rapid solutions.
On the morning of January 13, 2011 and as he was preparing himself to receive the relevant public directors, he received a phone call from the director of the Diwan Ayad al-Wadrani who asked if he was aware that he had to give a speech in Parliament concerning the situation in the country.
He said: “No, no one informed me about this.”
He was told to “coordinate with the Prime Minister to do this intervention”. He asked the president of the Diwan and the secretary of state to collect any available information concerning the situation and to prepare a good report. He then went to meet the Prime Minister who was in the parliament with Fouad al-Mebazaa. He delivered his intervention in the parliament then he delivered the same one before the Council of counselors that day at night, and he asserted that the youth of Tunis cannot support any oppression of liberties and that it is important to guarantee liberty and democracy. When he came back to the Ministry of Interior, he knew that the president Ben Ali will deliver a speech to the Tunisian people. Later on, he listened to that speech from his office, while it was broadcasted on the Tunisian TV; afterwards, he called some of the governors who told him that the citizens gained hope after the president’s speech.
The president called him later, and asked him about the reactions, he said: “The citizens want a real concretization of these resolutions” to which the president replied: “You will see that in the upcoming days those resolutions will be concretized”.
On the January 14, 2011 he was informed by the General-Director of public Security, that a gathering will be held in front of the building of the Tunisian General Labor Union, and that the gathering might head towards Habib Bourakiba Street to protest. He always stressed on avoiding violence and not to use live ammunitions. He gave those directives to the Central Administration of operations and he asked the Diwan to prepare a release prohibiting the use of live ammunitions, unless if it was according to the law Number 4 of the year 1969. This release was signed on the January 15, 2011 and at about 8:00 am, he was informed that the lawyer and the activist Radiya al-Nasrawi, the member of the opposition Jaloul Azzouna and some of the journalists are present in front of the Ministry of Interior and they are asking to release Hima al-Hamami, the husband of Radiya al-Nasrawi, who was arrested in the Ministry of Interior. He asked the General Director of political affairs to receive her in his office and to tell her that he will revise her demand seriously, but Radiya al-Nasrawi refused this and preferred to protest in front of the building; at that time many citizens started to come to BouRakiba Street, the minister called the mayor of Tarifi, the president of the Tunisian League for Human rights, Abdul Razak al-Kilani the dean of lawyers, Ahmad Najib al-Chabi the leader of the Progressive Democratic Party of the opposition and Abdul Salam secretary general of the labor union; he asked them all to invite their partisans to protest and not to attack the ministry and to keep a peaceful aspect of the demonstration in order to avoid any possible violence that could lead to victims.
Meanwhile, president Ben Ali called him and informed him about the demand of Radiya al-Nasrawi and he asked him to release him directly, and he said: “We will release him in order to calm the situation”, at about 12:30pm, Ben Ali ordered the release of Hima al-Hamami, and at that time he was in the Ministry of Interior to discuss with him the issue of stimulating the citizens, and when the number of people in front of the Ministry of Interior increased, the minister was reiterating the idea that violence must not be used.
At about 12:00 pm, he received a phone call from the president Ben Ali who said: “I assigned the General Rachid Ammar to coordinate between the Internal Security Forces and the National Army, and he will join you at the Ministry of Interior”.
At about 1:30 pm, Rachid Ammar arrived to the Ministry Of Interior, and started the coordination process from his office and from the Central Operations Room; the demonstration lasted for about five hours without any intervention from the ISF, slogans were raised appealing Ben Ali to leave, and asking to prosecute al-Trabelsi family and all the symbols of corruption. Afterwards, the minister of Defense Rida Karira called him and said literally: “a group of al-Trabelsi family is detained in the eastern terminal of the airport by the police commandos, and the president answered “why my family is detained in the airport?” Ahmad Fariaa replied “I will check this”.
At that time, General Rachid Ammar and the General Director of the National Security Adel al-Tueiri were at the office, and al-Tueiri said that he does not have any idea about this issue. They were all watching the demonstration in front of the Ministry and trying to prohibit the use of violence. General Jalal Boudarika was invited to the office; he was at that time within the ministry trying to guarantee its security. While he was there, General Rachid Ammar asked about the situation and required the names of those who detained members of al-Trabelsi family in the airport of Carthage in Tunis, he said that he does not have any idea about this. Consequently, they have asked him to call the airport and ask about this issue very seriously. After making a call, he was told that those were arrested upon the orders of the General Director of the Presidency’s Security Ali Asseryati; after these orders they were all surprised and asked to contact the airport and then General Jalal Boudarika informed them that: “They told me that they applied the orders of Ali Asseryati”, and it seemed that this was not true.
In fact, after investigating about this issue, until the arrival of Boudarika to the airport, especially from the General director of the National Security, Adel al-Tueiri, and at about 5:50pm, the general Director of political Affairs informed him that Ali al-Jaliti and the General Director of National Security Adel al-Tueiri that the President Ben Ali had left the country by plane from the presidential airport, they informed him also that he is heading to Malta; these news surprised him. Moreover, Adel al-Tueiri told him that 33 members of Trabelsi and Ben Ali families were captured, delivered to the army and taken to the army barracks in Ouainia, without consulting him. Then, he saw on television the handover process by the Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Ghanouchi. The latter called him and asked to have a meeting in the Ministry of Interior, with the presence of the Minister of Defense Rida Karira, Rachid Ammar and Ahmad Chabir and the General Director of National Security Adel al-Tueiri.
At about 9:00 pm, the Prime minister came followed by the above mentioned personalities and the meeting lasted till late at night. The meeting was about the application of Chapter 57 of the constitution instead of Chapter 56, in order to ensure a constitutional transition of power. Mohammed Al-Ghanouchi received a phone call from the president Ben Ali who was asking if it was possible for him to come back to the country, al-Ghanouchi told him that his personal security cannot be guaranteed and that it is impossible for him to come back. Upon this, it was urgent to find a quick solution for this issue and to apply Chapter 57 of the constitution. To end the phone call with Ben Ali, al-Ghanouchi said: “Fouad al-Mebazaa does not have the will to be in charge for health reasons”.
He then called Hamed al-Karawi, and asked him to change Mebazaa's decision in order to avoid a presidential vacuum, in this temporary plan, due to the fact that this may have serious repercussions in the country and might lead to the exploitation of President Ben Ali being the President of the Tunisian Republic. They agreed that mobile patrols must be available and ready to ensure the security of the country in collaboration with the army and the police in order to protect the citizens and their properties and to protect the economic and tourist regions.
On January 15, chapter 57 was applied and Mebazaa agreed to be the president temporarily.
The minister denied his knowledge of any of the directives which were used to dissipate the demonstrators; he did not know who issued those directives. He was informed that a car that carried a dead body was among the demonstrators but discovered later on that the coffin was empty. And once the car reached the ministry building, some started to throw Molotov Cocktails while others climbed the ministry’s wall and stood up on the balcony where the Tunisian flag was raised, and according to what he was informed about, they started to take the flag off.
On January 13, at night, the minister of Defense Rida Karira called him and told him that some units from the ministry of Interior are willing to hand their arms to the army forces and he said: “It looks like an overthrow is taking place in the country”. The minister called the General Director of national security and asked him for some clarifications, so he told him that this did happen and that demonstrators are attacking the security departments and are trying to get hold of the weapons.
Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi - Prime Minister
On January 13, he presented in parliament, the Government's statement related to applying the presidential decisions and Mr. Ahmad Fariaa, the Minister of Interior intervened and delivered a speech about the security situation in the country. On the same day, the Minister of National Defense, Rida Karira called him and said “the police handed over their weapons to the army and thus only the army will be armed and this is dangerous” so the Prime Minister answered “call the Minister of Interior, it is of his concerns”.
The Prime Minister listened to the speech of President Ben Ali that night; it was an unusual speech in terms of form and content, the president had approved on the reduction of food price. The Prime Minister knew later on that Marwan Mabrouk contributed in publishing the speech on January 14 2011. He arrived at his office at 7:15 am and took the responsibility to coordinate with the ministers of development, finance and trade to apply what has been stated in the President’s speech regarding the price reduction on the essential consumer goods. In the meantime, he received a call from Abdelaziz Ben Diaa, the personal adviser of President Ben Ali. Abdelaziz informed him about the president’s decision to declare a state of emergency throughout the country and about the assignment of General Amar to coordinate between the Ministries of Defense and Interior in controlling these events, due to the intervention of the army. He also informed him about the decision to dissolve the government and assigning the Prime Minister to form a new government.
Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi was surprised by those decisions because decisions like these should have been directly coordinated between the President and the Prime Minister. He was also surprised that the President Ben Ali had not called him directly and informed him about the decisions that he had taken. At that moment, he started to put order to his office and send the files to his private secretary and then to the concerned parties in order to quit his job. He was irritated because they did not inform him directly about the decisions and after things got complicated, he was convinced that the conditions became inappropriate and he cannot continue his work as a Prime Minister. While he was counting his files, he called Ahmed Fariaa, the Minister of Interior and asked him about the situation in Avenue Habib Bourakiba so the latter told him that Radia al-Nasraoui is demanding to release her husband, Hamma al-Hammami. The Prime Minister told the Minister of Interior to coordinate with President Ben Ali on this subject and he agreed and supported the idea that may get later on the approval of the President. That was the first time, since he was appointed as Prime Minister, to directly coordinate with the Minister of Interior, because former Ministers of Interior insisted and refused to coordinate with the Prime Minister in any topic related to the ministry unless it was to inform him about assigning governors before introducing them officially. He used to leave the ministry on Friday around 2:30 pm, but that day, he was busy arranging his office to quit the work permanently. He informed the chamberlain about his departure in order to inform the aides associated with the special personnel for the security of the President and officials. The prime minister was informed later on, about the need to wait because the security situation was unstable and therefore he cannot leave. His aides were searching for a way to leave and it has been the case till 5 pm.
While he was preparing himself to leave the office, the chamberlain Abdul Hakim al-Hinachi informed him that the head of the guards’ team in the Prime Ministry related to the Presidential Security wants to meet him for an urgent matter. It was the first time that the head of the Prime Ministry’s guards asked to meet him, so he agreed because he thought that the latter wanted to inform him about the itinerary of his way back home. The head of the security team entered the office and told the Prime Minister about an urgent call on his own mobile from the presidency. As soon as he gave him the phone the man who was calling, introduced himself as an officer in the General Administration for the security of the president and his name was Sami al-Sik Salem. He was speaking in a troubled tone, and he said “Bear your responsibility Mr. Prime Minister, in these circumstances…” then the call was off. At that moment, the Prime Minister did not realize the meaning of those words; he was shocked and had no idea that the President Ben Ali left the country.
Sami al-Sik Salem called him again and said “Bear your responsibility Mr. Prime Minister, we should avoid bloodshed, take over the presidency there is a bloodshed threatening the country.” So the Prime Minister replied: “When there is a presidential vacuum, the head of the speaker of the parliament shall fill the vacuum” so Sami said “OK” and ended the call.
The prime minister was surprised so he tried to call Ben Ali, but he was informed that the president was not there, and the operator in the prime ministry suggested calling Ali Asseryati, the Director-General of the presidential security. He agreed but the same officer who called him earlier, Sami al-sik Salem was the one who answered. The latter told him, “Didn’t I tell you that they left? They all fled… The President left the country and Asseryati went with him... Everybody left and I’m alone in the palace...” He asked him again to bear the presidency’s responsibility.
The Prime Minister called upon the Director of his office Tayyib al-Youssefi and told him what happened. He then asked him for his opinion and to call any person with the expertise in constitutional law to determine the orientation to be followed in order to avoid the vacuum at the presidency and its consequences. They called upon Ahmed Zarrouk, Director General of Administration and Civil Service, and through reading the chapters of the legal transfer of executive power they found that it is appropriate to adopt Chapter 56 of the Constitution as a temporary and circumstantial solution and the Prime Minister will bear the responsibilities of the President of the Republic temporarily while they wait for necessary measures to regulate the transition of power, in accordance with Chapter 57 of the Constitution. This action was considered as an emergency measure in the light of the country’s situation and the impossibility to take appropriate measures to apply Chapter 57 of the Constitution in such circumstances because it requires the meeting of all the members of the Constitutional Council to approve the presidential vacuum and inform the legislative authority; this will allow to regulate the transfer of power. After making sure of the procedures, they called Sami al-Sik Salem and informed him about the measures to be followed in order to organize the transfer of power.
Sami called the prime minister on mobile phone and told him about the measures “I will send you a car to get you to the palace.” The Prime Minister agreed and while he was waiting for the arrival of the car, he drafted the speech he intended to deliver upon becoming the interim President of the republic, in the presence of al-Tayyib al-Youssefi and Ahmed Zarrouk, who participated in the speech’s draft that contained some corrections.
When the car arrived, he got into it and as prime minister, he called the Minister of National Defense, Rida Karira and informed him about the issue. Karira had known about the president’s departure and the calls between Karira and Ghannouchi were numerous. Karira was asking the latter about the necessity to pay attention and take the necessary precautions, he asked him to constantly coordinate with him and he said, “The army is Republican and it is committed to the legitimacy, I have doubts regarding the actions of Asseryati... and I intend to arrest him” he said, adding, “I have full confidence in Rachid Ammar”.
Upon the arrival of the Prime Minister to the presidential palace in Carthage, he found the main door open and he was greeted by a number of presidential security aides, and some officials; he was then directed to the Presidential Suite and specifically to the room where President Ben Ali received his guests. He found a media team consisting of a cameraman and his assistant, in addition to Messrs. Fouad Mebazaa and Abdallah al-Kallel who informed him that they have just arrived to that hall. They added that they were invited by some security aides to come to the Palace of Carthage urgently. The prime minister told them about the circumstances of contacting him and bringing him to the palace of Carthage in addition to the general circumstances and forthcoming risks related to the country which require transitional measures to avoid presidential vacuum. He has also suggested applying Chapter 56 of the Constitution as a preliminary measure to get to Chapter 57 of the Constitution. He spoke to Fouad Mebazaa saying “You are a the candidate to the presidency” once the Constitutional Council approves the presidential vacuum but Fouad Mebazaa expressed his negation for reasons related to his health and did not confirm these proposals.
Afterwards, in the presence of the speaker of the parliament and the advisers, he delivered the speech by which he declared the temporary vacuum in the Presidency and the adoption of a provisional and constitutional solution, which is the application of Chapter 56. Upon the registration of the speech, the Prime Minister, the speaker of the parliament and the advisers wanted to go out but when they reached the front door and while they were waiting for the cars that will take them back home, they were informed by some presidential security officials that they must stay and wait for the public's reaction after the broadcast of that announcement on TV. Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi was not informed about sending the tape to the Tunisian Television and about the breaking news tab at the bottom of the screen, “a historic speech in a while addressed to the Tunisian people”.
They were then taken to the office that is adjacent to the reception hall and while they were there, Colonel Adnan al-Hattab arrived and announced that he is responsible of the general management of the presidential and officials’ security succeeding Asseryati. Presidential security agents were entering and leaving the room without permission as if they were awaiting something. In the meantime, the call with Rida Karira, the Minister of National Defense, was ongoing and he confirmed that they arrested Asseryati at the airport but he did not reveal the details and when asked about the reasons he said “I have doubts” without giving the real causes of the arrest. While the Prime Minister was following-up the news on the television, he saw the broadcast of the speech, and subsequently he received a phone call from President Ben Ali, through a phone that a presidential security agent handed him. Ben Ali, who seemed to be in a strange condition, spoke to him stammering and said “What have you done … is it possible? Deny it ... Issue a communiqué denying what was said before”.
Ghannouchi replied “You left without telling anyone, in these exceptional circumstances.”
Ben Ali answered “I am accompanying my family but I will return”.
The Prime Minister said “They contacted us and brought us to the palace of Carthage, and so we read this announcement”. However, Ben Ali insisted “Deny it!” so Ghannouchi told him to talk with the speaker of the parliament and handed the phone to the latter.
As soon as he got the phone, the speaker of the parliament repeated what the prime minister had said and passed the phone to Abdullah Kallel, the President of the Chamber of advisers who said at the end of the call “When you get back we will receive you at the airport, Mr. President”.
Afterwards, the prime minister contacted Rida Karira, the Minister of Defense so Karira told him that they can leave the palace and said “they asked Rachid Ammar to go to the Palace of Carthage, but he will not go”. After a while, they were allowed to leave the presidential palace in Carthage the prime minister got back to his house and contacted Zouhair Muzaffar and asked him to call Fathi Abdul Nazer, the President of the Constitutional Council so he (the prime minister) could meet with him on the morning of January 15, 2011 in order to take the required actions in conformity with Chapter 57 of the Constitution. He then contacted the ministers of interior and defense asking them to go to the Ministry of the Interior to assess and follow-up the situation, in the light of the loose security situation. The PM went to the Ministry of Interior and Local Development where Rachid Ammar and the Ministers of Interior and Defense received him in addition to many security and military officials.
One of the most prominent decisions that this meeting has led to is the need to give the Speaker of the Parliament, Fouad Mebazaa the tasks of the interim President, in conformity with Chapter 57 of the Constitution, despite the refusal that Mebazaa expressed for health reasons.
Ghannouchi called Hamed Karawi, a close friend of Mebazaa and asked him to try convincing him to accept this task because Abdallah Kallel cannot bear this responsibility in any way. Hamed Karawi succeeded in convincing Fouad Mebazaa to take the job and everybody was satisfied. Moreover, it was decided not to use live ammunition - in any case – in the event of a direct threat. They received information reporting an intention to storm the headquarters of the Tunisian Television, as well as the Ministry of Interior, and they have agreed not to use live ammunition. That night, Ghannouchi got back home at 3 am and on January 15 at 7 am he went to the Prime Minister’s office in where he found Fathi Abdul Nazer, the President of the Constitutional Council waiting for him. The letter, under which the Constitutional Council will be invited to the meeting to declare the presidential vacuum after the departure of the former president without any prior information especially that the country was in a state of emergency, was prepared. The Constitutional Council was held in the presence of all its members and the Council approved the presidential vacuum. The speaker of the Parliament was urged to temporary bear the responsibilities of the President. They have prepared the process that took place in the parliament where Fouad Mebazaa took the oath and was sworn as interim President.
When Ghannouchi was in the Ministry of Interior on January 15 2011, he received a phone call from Ben Ali, who found these actions and decisions strange so Ghannouchi, told him that he is not welcome in Tunis since he was trying to go back and take the power again. He told him literally “This is not possible, there is a unanimous rejection because of the theft”.
Ben Ali contacted him later on, through the Prime Minister’s operator but Ghannouchi does not remember the date exactly, and the operator told him that a Saudi prince named Ahmed wants to talk to him but it was Ben Ali who has requested to send him some of his clothes and things, but he did not ask about the situation in the country or anything else. That was the last call between Ben Ali and Ghannouchi, and the latter asked the phone operator not to pass him any call from Saudi Arabia.
Ghannouchi stressed that he talked with Colonel Samir al-Tarhuni on the phone when he was in the VIP lounge at Tunis-Carthage, about handing Trabelsi family members to the Tunisian army. He had told him that he was working for the country and that he was ready to carry out your instructions, but he added that he does not remember the reason of the call due to the acceleration of events.
The Prime Minister recalls that on the night of January 14, when he was at the meeting in the Ministry of Interior, Nabil al-Shitawi the Director General of the Tunisian Airline, called him and asked him if he should bring back the presidential plane as the President Ben Ali had asked the crew to wait for him, and al-Al-Ghannouchi asked al-Shitawi to bring it back and told him literally “Assume your duties”.
Ghannouchi entered the Palace of Carthage on January 14 2011 at 6:25 and then left at 8:15.
Al-Tayyib al-Youssefi - Director of the PM’s Office
Around 5:30 or 6 on January 14, the Prime Minister invited him to his office and told him that he had received a phone call from one of the presidential security personnel at the palace in Carthage, informing him that President Ben Ali has left the country, and he asked him to go to the presidential palace in Carthage quickly.
Ghannouchi tried contacting the president but the same officer answered the phone and confirmed the information and asked him to go to the palace. The prime minister then called upon government’s legal adviser Kheir Eddine Bin Sultan, who had left the ministry. Then Youssefi got out of the minister's office and went to his office where Ahmed Zarrouk, the Director General of Administration and Civil Service was present watching the events on TV. Youssefi took the constitution booklet and went with Zarrouk to the Office of the Prime Minister.
Ahmad Zarrouk read the content of chapters 56 and 57 of the Tunisian Constitution and the Prime Minister had been advised to apply Chapter 56 because it turned out that the application of Chapter 57 requires the meeting of the Constitutional Council to approve the presidential vacuum and appoint the Speaker of the parliament as an interim President. The Prime Minister suggested the application of Chapter 56 due to time constraints and the impossibility of gathering all the members of the Constitutional Council at that time because of the state of emergency and the curfew in addition to the insistence of the Presidential Security agent who called him and told him to go to the palace quickly as the situation was critic. The Prime Minister said literally “The man told me to bear the responsibility, and come the soonest to the Palace”.
Ghannouchi had written some points on a white paper to announce the presidential vacuum and that he became the interim president after he was advised by Youssefi and Ahmed Zarrouk to apply one of these two chapters of the Constitution although this operation didn’t take more than 15 minutes. In the meantime, the head of the Prime Minister’s security team, Bashir Shahida came to the office and informed him about the arrival of an armored car to transport him to the presidential palace in Carthage. Youssefi and Ahmed Zarrouk stayed in the office all night long and watched the prime minister’s speech there. The Prime Minister called al-Youssefi at 11 pm and told him that he was in a meeting at the Ministry of Interior and asked him to coordinate with Al-Jazeera to have an interview through the phone. Indeed, he has done so, and the Prime Minister has told him the next day that his meeting at the Ministry of Interior lasted till 3am.
Ahmed Zarrouk – Director General of Administration and Civil Service
At 3 pm on January 14 2011, he went to the office of Tayib al-Youssefi, the Director of the prime minister’s office, and around 4 pm, the dissolution of the government was announced. Youssefi received a call from the Prime Minister who asked him to call all the ministers and tell them to stay in their offices to conduct the ministries’ affairs. While Youssefi was making the phone calls he learned that a state of emergency in the country had been declared, and he took charge of the coordination with the Ministry of Defense as well as issuing a communiqué and calling the “Tunis Afrique press news agency”.
In the meantime Zarrouk was called to go the Prime Minister’s Office at 6 pm or even later. He found him with Youssefi and said to him: “Mr. President fled ... They called me on behalf of the presidency... They said that the President left the country... let me prove it”. He picked up the phone and dialed Ben Ali’s office number but he was transferred to another person who confirmed that the president left the country and that he must go to the presidential palace in Carthage. In addition, he told him that Mr. Fouad Mebazaa was contacted to bring him to the palace, as well as Abdullah Kallel and that he would send an armored car to the Prime Minister to take him to the palace.
The Prime Minister was surprised from that call, and the shock expression was obvious on his face because of what was happening. In the meantime, the security officer in charge of the protection of the ministry came and told him that the armored car is ready to take the Prime Minister.
Ayman ben Saiidan - Head of anti-terrorism training team
He was tasked on January 13 2011, to ensure the protection of headquarters of the Ministry of Interior with the participation of a group affiliated to anti-terrorism regiment. On January 14, around 9 am he arrived at the Ministry accompanied by four teams, consisting of 31 men armed with individual weapons, machine guns, pistols, gas grenades and a lot of live and fake ammunition. He then positioned his elements in the vicinity of the Ministry of Interior. Since the morning, many foreign and Tunisian journalists have been arriving to the ministry and in the meantime, a large number of citizens had begun to gather; by 1 pm the gathering became large. The members of the anti-terrorism force were not trained to separate the protesters because they were constantly trained on terrorism, hostage rescue and building incursions operations.
Saiidan took a decision to let three teams enter the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior, where he had put a plan to defend the building from the inside, specifically through the ports. He was continuously coordinating over the radio with Colonel Samir al-Tarhuni. The chaos was devastating in and around the ministry so he found some difficulties in coordinating with the officials who were inside and he was directly coordinating with the Director of the intervention units who was wandering in the ministry. He told him at 2:20 pm “Beware the use of ammunition, only use gas grenades, beware the use of ammunition”.
Subsequently, he felt the vulnerability and the seriousness of the situation where the number of demonstrators, who were at the main gate of the ministry that was closed back then, reached tens of thousands. Some protesters climbed on the windows and balconies located on the external fence. He was calling Colonel Samir al-Tarhuni but the latter was not answering all the time. He has noticed that Tarhuni was in an unusual situation where he was answering the call and then ending it very briefly; He could not understand the content and was wondering about the concision. In the meantime, he heard two men, belonging to his team standing beside him near the main gate, loading their individual weapons. At that time, he had called Samir al-Tarhuni, and asked him about the situation “They told us not to use weapons”, so Tarhuni replied “They warned us not to use live ammunition and not gas grenades”. Chaos pervaded in the ministry and security forces in military and civilian outfit were in a state of chaos too. Moreover some protestors tried to storm into the ministry through the side door, so the security threw a gas grenade to keep them away, forcing them to withdraw from there. Consequently, the process of dispersing the demonstrators using gas grenade began. He then went to the office of the Minister of Interior, Ahmad Fariaa and broke the window’s glass at the Office of the Minister who was suffering from asphyxiation due to gas grenades. The rest of the troops deployed around the ministry, were able to scatter protesters and the operations were pursued till 6 pm when the protesters were completely scattered.
Mohammed al-Sadeq al-Ouni – He worked with President Ben Ali for many years in the Ministry of the Interior
The president trusts Ouni. He was assigned by Ben Ali to perform some personal tasks including buying him clothes and other items from France. Since the outbreak of the events, his tasks had been limited to delivering the private mail from the Ministry of the Interior to President Ben Ali.
Regarding the cargo that he transferred to the headquarters of the former president in Sidi dhrif, a few days before January 14 2011, he stated that it included 3 Plasma TV, a gift from Sony company to President Ben Ali, so he has put them in the presidential palace warehouse. Ouni mentioned that since the return of President Ben Ali from Dubai on December 28 2010, he did not deliver any mail because the contact was then made directly by the Minister of the Interior. On the subject of his last meeting with President Ben Ali, he said that it was on the morning of January 13 2011, when he met him in the palace of Carthage, and they had a discussion through which, Ben Ali said that he was on the verge of making radical reforms and major changes. Ouni was very optimistic as he heard him by chance asking to deal fairly and nicely with the march of the artists that was held in front of the municipal theater in the capital that day.
Colonel Toufic al-Dibabi - Appointed Director of the Presidential Security on January 16 2011, succeeding Asseryati
From the time when he was assigned, he noticed that there was a devastating state of chaos and all the employees in the Presidential Security were depressed because they had been subjected to a vicious media campaign targeting them. Some were attacked by angry citizens. Many had complained to him about the insults they have suffered from even from their neighbors. He intervened and coordinated with General Rashid Ammar regarding the release of five Presidential Security aides who were arrested by the army and charged with conspiracy against the security of the state with Asseryati. He has checked all the weapons and found them in a good condition, as well as the status of the aides; he found them all at work and he did not find any absence on January 14 and the days that followed.
Kamal al-Budeiri - Food and beverage manager associated to the President Ben Ali -The President's Special servant
Budeiri was usually in charge of preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for President Ben Ali and his family. He knows and keeps the secrets of the royal family. He said that on the night of December 21, he was on board of a military plane C130 and after they had prepared it to travel to Dubai the aircraft broke down so they moved it to Bizerte military base to fix it and it took off on December 22 to Dubai, where they settled in the five-star hotel – The Atlantis. When the President returned on the night of December 28 2010, he prepared the dinner table; the president was tired from traveling and angry because of the events. Kamal al-Budeiri and some of the workers were watching the news on TV, so the president asked them furiously “What are you watching?” and they answered, “Mr. President, we are watching a football game”.
The President did not have dinner that night. Budeiri noticed that Ben Ali was in an unusual state during that period of time, and that he was angry all the time. Most of the time, he used to watch TV channels like MBC action since he was fond of the computer and specifically video, war and adventure games, and he used to spend the morning at the presidential palace in Carthage and the evening at the presidential palace in Sidi Dhrif playing these games alone. At that time and even before, his wife used to stay awake till late at night with her sister Samira Trabelsi, Leila her brother’s wife and many other women who used to leave the palace around 3am, but during the month of Ramadan they stayed till the “Suhoor”. Leila Trabelsi was fond of presenting Vows to saints,
On the morning of January 7, he noticed that the president woke up in an unusual tensed mood.
On January 14 2011, Budeiri went to work normally and when he arrived at around 9 am he started to prepare lunch. At 1:30 pm, Leila called the cook and told him to take the lunch to the office of the President who decided to stay there. Around 2 pm, President Ben Ali called him and said, “Kamal, you will go on pilgrimage with Leila Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia for three or four days”. He was surprised because he did not previously know about it and then he asked the general supervisor in the palace about what to take with him so she told him “just take the medicines.” He then went to his room at the presidential palace in Sidi Drif and packed some clothes and toiletries, and then he heard Leila Trabelsi shouting on the internal phone “Bring the suitcases”.
She rode her car and Kamal got into another car with two Filipino maids, then they all went to the presidential palace in Carthage, where he saw a large number of cars that parked there. There was a group of aides carrying their machine guns, and President Ben Ali was standing there with Asseryati, the head of the Presidential Security and Mohsen Rahim the chief of protocol; they were having a conversation. There were a lot of presidential security agents there and then they all got into the cars that were parked there and went to the military barracks in al-Ouainia.
The convoy was driving at a very high speed and he was in the last car. When they arrived at the military barracks in al-Ouainia, the door opened in a normal way, and when they entered, the convoy stopped in front of a hall. The passengers got into the presidential plane hangar while the President Ben Ali, Ali Asseryati and Mohsen Rahim stood near the wing of the plane; they were talking loudly and they were in a state of unusual confusion and turmoil. Ben Ali was moving both hands once up and then back down and the plane’s pilot Mahmoud Sheikh Rouho joined them but later withdrew and got on the plane. Kamal had boarded the plane accompanied by the two maids while some workers in Tunis Air moved the luggage into the plane. Then the pilot moved towards him and gave him three passports. Afterwards, Leila Trabelsi stepped up into the plane and headed towards the president’s office in the presidential plane; she was in an unusual situation, she sat down and remained silent. Ben Ali got on the plane while Asseryati and Rahim stayed out. Then Ben Ali went directly to his daughter who was sitting next to her fiancé and to his son Mohammed Zine el-Abidine, who were seated in the middle of the plane and he hugged his son Mohammed and began to speak to his daughter Halima.
The plane’s door was still open and after about 45 minutes, they turned on the engines and the plane came out of the warehouse towards the runway and then took off. Kamal was surprised that President Ben Ali remained on board and he was not aware of this, until the hostess Nadia Belhessen came to him and told him that the president is asking him “If there was anything to eat”. He was confused and asked her “Please tell him that I had not brought his medicine, so he does not ask me why” and so she did. An hour later, President Ben Ali came to him and said “you did not get me my medicines” so Kamal told him, “Mr. President, I did not know that you will travel with us” and the president said, “no problem, we will buy it once we get there”. He then went to his office and did numerous phone calls via the plane’s phone and Kamal noticed that the president was in an unusual mood and that he seemed angry to the point that his face was lifeless.
When they arrived at Jeddah airport, the plane remained in the air over the airport because of the bad weather and then landed. The president was welcome by a Saudi prince, and then they went into the VIP lounge at the airport while Kamal stayed with the two maids. Everyone was taken later on to a guest palace in Jeddah near the seashore, and the Prince, who received President Ben Ali, accompanied him to the palace. At the palace, he was received by a Saudi; Ben Ali asked him to get him the medicine that he usually takes “Rithmonl” for the heart disease and “Josir” for urinary problems, but in the morning the Saudi host told the president that he could not find the medicine and that they will get it for him soon. The medicine was brought from France, six days after the arrival of the President to Jeddah. At that time, Ben Ali was worried and remained silent while his wife Leila, was criticizing the current events in the country and the process of arresting her family. She was frequently asking her husband “Why did they arrest them? What have they done? What have they done?” and he answered “let them assume their responsibility... they will judge them by the law now”.
Few heated arguments occurred between them because of the death of Adel Trabelsi in the military hospital; the President remained silent most of the times. Leila Trabelsi used “Skype” to call Samira Belhay and her daughter Sirine, Sakher al-Materi’s wife, who gave birth to a baby girl. Ben Ali was able to register his son Mohammed in one of the French schools.
Kamal al-Budeiri spent almost three months with the former president in Jeddah and Ben Ali was preventing him from leaving the palace except once, when he allowed him to travel to the pilgrimage. Every time, Ben Ali was telling him “You cannot leave before you manage to get someone to work for me as a substitute”. Kamal trained two Egyptians, but Ben Ali refused to hire them and told him “I do not trust Egyptians; I contacted a Bangladeshi to come and serve me”. He discovered later on that the President’s son-in-law Sakher al-Materi had contacted the Bangladeshi, who was brought to the guest palace in Jeddah. The Ministry of Interior issued an airline ticket for Kamal al-Budeiri and he returned to Tunisia on April 3, 2011.
Rawda al Hanashi – Fortune-teller
Hanashi entered the presidential palace in Carthage on January13 2011 at 5:40 pm as a spiritual healer by the Quran, whom Fatima, a relative of Leila Trabelsi, used to visit in order to treat her daughter who suffered from black magic.
On January 13, she asked Fatima to visit the presidential palace in Carthage to meet him there, so she drove her to the presidential palace at 5 pm, they were allowed to pass through and enter to the palace. They have been received by the Presidential head of protocol Mohsen Rahim then, the president Ben Ali entered, greeted her and told her “You are welcome my daughter, you visited me on a historical night” to which she replied “Three months ago, I had a vision and I wanted to visit you but I was afraid they would shoot me”.
He said to her “no one can hurt you. If you had told me before, you would have entered the palace, God bless you”. She wiped his face, his hair and the rest of his body while reciting Quranic verses until someone came and told him “Mr. President, the speech is ready”.
Ben Ali replied “wait a little bit” as he wanted to be sure the fortune teller had done whatever it was she was doing. When she finished, he told her “You may stay with us in the palace and practice astrology ... You are welcome”. She replied that her mother is sick and she must stay with her, so he asked someone to take her home, then Mohsen Rahim gave her 100 Tunisian dinars in a white envelope.
Samir al-Obeidi – Minister of Communications – Government Spokesman
He was appointed as the minister of communications on December 29 2010 upon the return of President Ben Ali from Dubai, after he was the Minister of Youth and Sports. He attended the cabinet meet on January 4 2011, where the events of the country were addressed briefly, and President Ben Ali was upset because of the negative proceeds of the democratic constitutional assemblage concerning the events taking place in Sidi Bouzid and spread to other cities. On January 9 2011, he was assigned by the President to conduct TV interview, its content was the necessity of the government to amend its policies, and that the popular demands are considered legitimate and the Tunisians have the right to peaceful manifestation, and he said that the general situation in the country is heading towards crisis in that period.
On January 11 2011, he was assigned by the President to hold a press conference that evening, following a meeting with the president’s adviser Abdelaziz Ben Diaa and the Interior Minister Rafik Belhajj Kassem; the conference aimed to provide the media with data and facts about these events, and President Ben Ali asked him to declare the presence of extremist and criminal elements embedded between the demonstrators to commit violence, and that the security agents are in the legitimate state of defending themselves. During the press conference, he received a call from the distributor at the presidential palace, the adviser Abdelaziz Ben Diaa was on line, and he told him literally “Mr. President says to stress that those who were killed, were killed in the legitimate state of defending the security stations”. He attended the press conference held by the Ghannouchi on January 12, 2011 to announce the adopted socio-economic measures, and on January 13 2011, at 8:00, he listened to the speech of the President Ben Ali as he was in the Tunisian TV station and he was following the TV coverage of the speech with the president of Tunisian TV Chawki Alawi, where dialogues between politicians were occurring, and he received a call from the director of presidential office Ayad al-Waderni, requesting to cover the reactions of that speech, and he received a call from President Ben Ali requesting the involvement of the Minister of Higher Education in the dialogue, and he suggested after the call, to allow the access of foreign media to cover the events, and the President approved on it, and he said “announce that the access to the internet is allowed tonight”, and the Minister of Communications announced the opening of all websites.
On January 14 2011, he received a phone call from the President saying “In the scope of the new decisions, the openness, and the authorization to organize manifestations and gatherings, the citizens have to feel free to organize those popular manifestations”.
He received a fax on his desk stipulating that President Ben Ali has decided to dissolve the government and has delegated the First Minister to form a new one, then, he received a call from the Minister of Defense Rida Karira informing him that he will send an announcement including the declaration of state of emergency throughout the republic starting at 5 pm. After declaring the state of emergency, he received a call from Chawki Alawi, the president of Tunisian TV, who said: “The presidential security asked me to send a broadcast car to the presidential palace, what to do?” The minister contacted the presidential palace for inquiry, after few minutes, someone answered; the minister asked him “did you ask for a car from the TV station?” He answered “Yes, the president travelled, the president traveled”.
The car was sent to announce the news of the departure of the President and it was agreed to include the words “In prompt, historic speech addressed to the Tunisian people”.
Muhammad Zahmoul- Chief of the traffic control tower at the Tunis-Carthage International Airport
At around 3:20 in the afternoon the control tower chief arrived and said: “The employee Shiraz Yaacoubi received a phone call from her husband Samir Tarhouni, who is in charge of the anti-terrorism brigade, saying that airplanes should not be allowed to take off and that he was on his way to the airport”. But since this information was provided by an unofficial source, Zahmoul ordered not to act before receiving official and legal instructions.
Zahmoul immediately called the airport commander who also said: “We did not receive any official instructions, continue working normally”. Then Zahmoul went back to the control tower. Suddenly, 15 minutes later, he heard one gunshot sound, so he went out of his office in the control tower and looked towards the airport’s VIP lounge where he saw a group of security agents wearing black combat uniforms and carrying machine guns. One of the civilians was lying on the ground with an agent pointing his weapon at him. The other security agents were running in all directions and they then settled in the surroundings of the VIP lounge.
The security agents approached the Italian air plane Air One. Zahmoul took a car and headed towards them to check on the situation. He approached the security agents and one of them pointed his gun at him. They also took one of the airport officers from Zahmoul’s car to check his identity although he was wearing his official uniform. Zahmoul said that as soon as he saw these incidents, he left the place and went back to the control tower at around 3:45. He stayed at the control tower amid chaos and confusion. At around 5:30, he received the flight plan of the presidential airplane coded tsi 00. This code means that the president and his wife are not onboard of the plane. According to the flight document, the plane would go to Jeddah; meanwhile, another document arrived by fax to the control tower concerning a local flight plan. At 5:36 in the afternoon, the crew asked on the radio for the permission to run the motors. The permission was given by air controller Shiraz Yaacoubi. When the pilot was heading to the tarmac, the controller asked him to report the plane’s destination so the pilot said that it was a local flight. The presidential plane took off and the air-traffic controllers were following its path on the radar screen in the control tower. At 6:25, Zahmoul noticed that the plane was flying above the Tunisian Jarba Island. It was flying at an attitude of 11km which meant that the plane would not land in Jarba nor return to Tunis airport. He realized at that moment, according to the plane’s height, that the presidential plane would not return but would rather leave the Tunisian airs.
Sami Aryani – director of the flight safety section in the civil aviation department
At around 2:45 in the afternoon, on January 14, 2011, Aryani received a phone call from his colleague, the air traffic controller who told him that they had received information asking them to prohibit any plane carrying the Ben Ali’s and Trabelsi’s family members from taking off. His colleague also informed him that the anti-terrorism brigade, lead by Tarhouni, were on their way to the airport. When Aryani inquired about his source of information, the controller told him that it was Shiraz Yaacoubi, the air traffic controller in the control tower, Tarhouni’s wife, who notified him. So Aryani called his direct chief and asked him to meet him at the departure gate of the Tunis-Carthage International Airport where he advised him of the situation. Aryani’s chief ordered him to go back to the control tower. When he arrived to the Airport’s hall, He noticed fear and concern on the workers’ and travelers faces who were talking about anonymous and masked people trying to storm the airport. In the light of Sami Aryani’s professional tie with Tarhoumi, he called him and inquired about the situation, so the latter answered him: “Is there any airplane that would carry the Trabelsi woman?”
Aryani told him that he has no relevant information so Tarhouni asked him to check and told him that he would call him afterwards, but he never did. In view of the chaos in the control tower, Aryani tried to ease the tension. Then he saw fire trucks in the airport. The control tower received the flight plan of the presidential plane heading to Jeddah. Then the tower received a second plan of a flight inside Tunisia. At 5:37, the control tower received a radio call from the presidential aircrew asking permission to run the motors. Thus, Ayrani called his official chief who gave him the permission. Then, the aircrew called again for the permission to move towards the take off tarmac. Aryani asked the controller not to give the permission to move the plane before checking its destination. Therefore, the aircrew informed him that they will abide by the local flight plan so they received the permission to move. The presidential airplane then took off escorted by the presidential security cars. The whole mission was very dangerous.
Mahmud Sheikh Rouhou – The presidential airplane pilot
In the year 2000, Tunisair bought two Boeing 773-700 airplanes and Sheikh Rouhou was officially appointed as the presidential plane pilot and became the direct responsible for any presidential flight details and in charge of the passengers safety. Moreover, three lists of the presidential airplane cabin crew were drawn. The time limit for takeoff was set at six hours. The Tunisair director general would personally call the president two weeks or few days before the flight in case of an official mission such as an official visit or participation in summits or other events. If the visits were private, the presidential family would be notified of the departure date two to three days in advance. When the presidential family passes the military barrack exterior door, they are allowed to enter according to a name list drawn by the President’s and official personalities’ security chief. The pilot and the rest of the crew would prepare the airplane and wait for the passengers to arrive. The pilot is then informed of the plane’s destination and the departure time so that he advises and coordinates with all the parties responsible for the flight.
On January 14, 2011, the presidential air pilot received a call from Nabil Shatawi, the director general of Tunisair, at around 3:30 in the afternoon, informing him that “The presidential family is ready for takeoff in about two hours”. The pilot said that it would be difficult to find a complete crew that usually includes 3 pilots, 6 air hosts and one mechanic. So Shatawi ordered him to organize the flight with the least number of cabin crew possible. Thus, the pilot called the mechanic, the co-pilot and two air hosts but he couldn’t reach the rest of the crew with the little time available. Then Sheikh Rouhou asked to refuel the aircraft that usually carries three tons, 3800 liters, of kerosene. According to the pilot, the flight seemed unusual especially after Shatawi had asked him to narrow down the number of crew members.
Sheikh Rouhou asked to fill the presidential airplane with 22 tons of fuel and he asked for a permit to fly to Jeddah. Sheikh Rouhou did not want to inform the control tower of the flight details since he had not received yet the permission to land in the destination and transit airports. He then headed directly to the military airport at around 4:15 in the afternoon. When he reached the ward, he found one of his assistants lifting the presidential airplane’s hoods and connecting the plane to the electrical circuit. Meanwhile the plane was being refueled. Although Sheikh Rouhou objected to refueling the plane in the garage, judging it as a dangerous procedure, the presidential security chief insisted on carrying on the operation. Meanwhile, he received a call from Mohsen Rahim, the presidential chief of protocol who literally asked him: “Are you ready for take-off or not?” So the pilot informed him that they were refueling the plane and they needed 25 minutes to finish.
A short while later, the presidential convoy arrived to the airport. Sheikh Rouhou was amazed by the number of cars in the convoy that were mainly 4x4 cars. The convoy reached the ward with many security agents in civil uniform on board. They were all armed. The President, his wife Leila, his son Muhammad, his daughter Halima and her fiancé all got out from the first car. Sheikh Rouhou also saw Ali Seriati. Then President Ben Ali and Mohsen Rahim approached and asked him: “Captain, can we fly to Jeddah?”, so the pilot answered: “Mr. President, I don’t have the necessary legal licenses”. Thus, the president told him: “Can’t you take off and inform them that we are heading somewhere else and then continue to Jeddah?” the air pilot replied: “I cannot leave the Tunisian airspace without a permit”. The president then moved back to talk with Rahim and Seriati. His wife, wearing a white fur coat, approached him and asked: “Are you supposed to report your flight destination?”, so the pilot answered: “we cannot enter any airspace without a prior permit and I need to advise the direction in advance”. So Leila Ben Ali said: “We take-off and inform them that we are going to Jarba and then we fly to wherever we want”.
Thus, he replied: “Madam, we cannot enter any airspace without a license and we are supposed to report the airplane’s destination”, so Leila Seriati returned to where she came from. Then, Rahim approached him and told him: “Let’s fly this plane”. The pilot asked about the fuel quantity filled, his crew told him it reached 14 tons so he asked them to continue refueling till 16 tons and then stop. Sheikh Rouhou then informed Rahim that the refueling process would end in three minutes. The atmosphere was tense, fear and terror was on everybody’s faces. A big car arrived to the ward carrying men, woman and kids. Leila Trabelsi approached them and meanwhile, Halima Kissed her father goodbye and boarded the plane with her brother Muhammad, her finance, the two maids and the president’s personal butler. The president and his wife stayed near the airplane. Then Mohsen Rahim, the presidential chief of protocol handed the pilot an envelope containing a set of passports that were passed to the president’s butler who got on the plane and gave the envelope to the airhostess. The pilot was waiting for an official reply about the permits and licenses so the president and Rahim approached him and Seriati literally told him: “Let us state in the flight plan that we are going to Jarba and not to Jeddah”.
So Rouhou asked him: “Then what?”
Rahim replied: “I will coordinate with the ministry of foreign affairs and call you in the plane”. When Rouhou saw the president kissing his daughter goodbye, he concluded that Ben Ali did not intend to travel. Then Leila Trabelsi joined them and asked: “What are you waiting for?” so the captain replied: “We are waiting for you Madam”. He also noticed an intense expression of fear on the president’s face.
Meanwhile, one of the young men who arrived in the big car tried to go onboard the plane but one of the president’s armed security agents forced him to withdraw. Seriati had made some phone calls to prepare the flight plan to Jarba and then went on board of the plane while President Ben Ali was still standing next to the passengers’ stairs. Then Ben Ali boarded the plane and the pilot was standing at the door. The president waved his hand and bade farewell to everyone and said: “They want me to travel with them; I will accompany them and then come back”.
The pilot entered the cockpit and closed the door. The airplane moved out of the ward and the pilot had no legal document to fly the plane. He had no flight plan or airspace maps or maps for the destination airport or transit airports or any details about the weather condition. Some 4x4 security cars escorted the airplane and the president approached the captain in the cockpit and told him: “We will drop the family in Jeddah and then return to Tunisia”. So the pilot answered: “At your service Mr. President. We can come back on time”.
Sheikh Rouhou asked the control tower on his radio to give him permission to take-off, but he received no reply. Thus, he headed for the nearest runway, next to the military base without receiving any relevant instructions. Two or three 4x4 cars were running in front of the plane and the other cars were running at each side of the aircraft. The whole operation, of which Rouhou was not informed, was highly dangerous. The plane took off at 5:45. Once in the air, the president asked whether they had permission to leave Tunisia and he replied they did not. Ben Ali said: “If you want to land in Malta or in Tripoli to refuel, there’s no problem”. Rouhou said: “Mr. President, we have enough fuel, the problem is in the permits”. When the pilot arrived above Jarba Island, he called Rahim to inquire about the permits he had promised to acquire for the landing in Libya and in Egypt so Rahim replied: “They are all done”.
Rouhou called the control tower in Libya, identified himself, gave them all necessary information about the plane, the aircraft call sign and asked them to make sure that they had the permission to cross over the Libyan airspace. The Libyan control tower asked him to wait for their response. Then the control tower in Tunis called and informed him that according to the instructions, the plane shall head to Tripoli in Libya. So the pilot did a full turn above the Tunisian Jarba Island. Meanwhile, the Libyan control tower called and asked him to give them the passengers’ identities so he replied: “The Tunisian president and his family”. At that moment, the president entered the cockpit, tapped him on the shoulder and said: “Don’t say the president, only say the president’s family”. So Rouhou called back the Libyan control tower and said: “I confirm that the Tunisian president’s family is on board”.
So the Libyan control tower called him back, gave him permission to cross and provided him with the air route he needed to follow. Then he received a call from the Tunisian Control tower that gave him permission to leave the Tunisian airspace. Thus, the presidential airplane entered the Libyan airspace. Then the Libyan side asked him to clarify whether he intended to land on the Libyan territory but Rouhou informed them that he was heading for Jeddah Airport. Afterward, the president left the cockpit. When the plane approached the Egyptian airspace, Sheikh Rouhou called the Libyan controller and asked him to check if they had the permission to enter the Libyan airspace.
So the controller called him and informed him that he could cross to the Egyptian airspace. The cabin crew then informed him that the president was making phone calls from inside the airplane. When the plane reached Jeddah airspace, he was surprised to see a thunder storm over the airport and most of the planes were changing direction towards the Medina Airport. But Sheikh Rouhou asked the control tower for permission to land and eased the plane to gradually go down. He then started landing after receiving the permission to land. The landing was extremely difficult due to heavy rain and wind storms that shook the aircraft. It was the first time that Sheikh Rouhou landed a plane under such difficult weather conditions despite his long experience in aviation. Then the president entered the cockpit to inquire about the violent plane shakes so the pilot informed him that the bad weather condition made the landing very difficult and told him: “Go and have some rest and in the morning I will call you to return to Tunisia”. When the pilot turned his cell phone on, he received a phone call from Mohsen Rahim, inquiring about the flight. So the pilot told him that the plane had reached Jeddah after a four-hour flight. He also received calls informing him about the president overthrow and that Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannouchi had become the interim president of Tunisia. So Sheikh Rouhou felt fear after hearing that news and advised the crew that they should immediately return to Tunisia. The airplane took-off and arrived in Tunisia at around 6 o’clock where a military commission from the Tunisian army retrieved the presidential airplane after taking a tour on board of it.
Tarek Ben Salem – in charge of the presidential airplane maintenance
The presidential airplane structure: it includes a presidential suite with one bedroom, a water closet and an office where President Ben Ali sat with his wife, his daughter Halima and her fiancé. The airplane also includes a first class suite where his son Muhammad slept and in the back seats sat Kamal Bdayri, the president’s butler. Every while, the president was moving from one suite to the other, into the cockpit. Tarek Ben Salem saw the president talking with his wife Leila who was crying. The president’s daughter Halima was also crying and asking the hostess about their flight destination. Leila Ben Ali wanted to watch television on board. She asked to watch the Tunisian television channel but the system was out of use.
Nadia Belhacen – The presidential plane air hostess
When she went on the plane she noticed the unusual lack of logistic preparations. Since she was not provided with supplies, she went down to the storehouse and took some pillows and blankets. She only found some soft drinks, coffee and tea, so she also took them and put them onboard. The last person to board the plane was President Ben Ali who headed to his son’s Muhammad seat. His son was frightened. When the president called his son to bid farewell, Muhammad did not move. So the president approached him and hugged him. In previous occasions, Ben Ali used to board the plane to bid farewell to his family when he was not traveling with them. But this time, he headed to his office in the plane, where his wife Leila Ben Ali was sitting. A while after the president took his seat, the airplane’s door was shut, and thus Nadia was surprised to see the president remaining in his seat. At that moment, Leila Ben Ali asked her to inquire in the cockpit about the plane’s destination. So Nadia asked the captain who answered: “We are heading to Jarba”.
Afterward, Leila Ben Ali asked her if there was food onboard, so Nadia replied that they only have water and coffee. Leila asked about the chocolate bars the family used to bring with them, but Nadia said that there was no chocolate on board. Then, the president interfered and asked her if she could give his son Muhammad a piece of chocolate but she repeated that there was no chocolate available. Meanwhile, Leila Trabelsi asked her to hand her the plane’s satellite mobile phone. Leila Trabelsi dialed a number and Nadia heard her shouting and saying: “Put Seriati on the phone!” Then Leila Trabelsi went to the water closet and told her: “We left the presidential palace in a rush. Bring me all the cosmetics present onboard”. So the maid collected toothpaste, a toothbrush, soap, and a hairdryer and put them in a bag then handed them to Nadia who passed them the Leila Ben Ali. Nadia also heard Leila Trabelsi asking her husband about his daughter Ghazwa, so the president answered her that Ghazwa was stuck in Tunisia. Then Leila Trabelsi washed and performed the Maghreb prayer.
Halima, the President’s daughter, was hysterical; she could not stop crying during the flight and always asked about their destination. The President tried to calm her down and told her: “Everything is going to be alright; you will have some rest and then return to Tunisia”. When they arrived at Jeddah, the landing was violent. When Leila Trabelsi asked her about it, she replied: “It is only rain”.
Nabil Shatawi – Director General Of Airline Tunisia – Tunisair.
On January 14, 2011, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Shatawi received a phone call from Mohsen Rahim, the presidential chief of protocol, asking him to prepare the presidential plane to carry the president’s family to Jeddah to perform Umrah at around 6 pm. So Shatawi called the airplane’s pilot and asked him to gather the crew and prepare the presidential airplane for the flight.
Shatawi watched on satellite TV channels the news about the president’s departure on board of the plane. He had received many calls from the airplane’s pilot between 10:30 and 11:30 (Tunis time) but he refused to answer out of fear of giving him instructions. But, after the pilot insisted to talk with him in his recurrent calls, he answered one of his calls in which the pilot informed him that they had reached Jeddah and that the president is asking them to wait for him to return in the morning. So the cabin crew asked Shatawi to give them instructions. Thus, Shatawi called Muhammad Ghannouchi, the prime minister and informed him that the president had asked the plane’s crew to wait and that they need him to decide about the presidential airplane return to Tunisia. So Ghannouchi told him that they would discuss the issue in a meeting with the minister of the defense.
Ghannouchi then passed the phone to the defense minister who told him “The army is patriotic and supports legitimacy. If the president returns, the army will defend him and the whole country would become a bloodbath. “So Shatawi proposed to tell the pilot to return with the plane and then go back to bring the president whenever it would be decided. So the defense minister agreed and said in a loud voice: “Bring the plane back” and the prime minister supplied: “Bring the plane back”. So Shatawi called the presidential plane pilot and informed him of the decision.
Shaker al-Ghariani - flight engineer – in charge of the presidential flight plan
He usually prepares a flight plan for the presidential plane at the request of the pilot Mahmoud Sheikh Rouho personally. He prepares the plan in his office on the computer via the Internet, where he can find a program called “JEPPESEN” related to the U.S. Company Boeing: it is a system, based in Denver airport in the United States of America, which allows the arrangement of the planned trip and its data. The above mentioned company determines the precise itinerary of the flight, the height, the quantity of fuel needed, the flight duration, the weather, the wind speed as well as the speed and the weight of the plane in the process of taking off and landing in both destination and departure airports, in addition to auxiliary airports in case of emergency. The company takes in charge sending the aviation plan scheme automatically to all air traffic control centers concerned in the plane trip.
On January 14 2011, Shaker went to his house near the capital Tunis and in the intervening time he received a call from the pilot of the presidential plane who asked him about his whereabouts and then asked him to return to his office and prepare the plan of Tunisia-Jeddah flight. He did not give him the details of the trip, such as the identities of passengers, the weight of fuel and bags so he can fill it within the system so he filled approximate data. Around 4:52 he completed the flight plan. He called Rouho who called him back and asked him to cancel this plan, so he agreed to do so. Shaker went to inform the local control office and asked them to cancel it. Five minutes later, the pilot called him again and asked him to prepare a “Tunisia-Tunisia” training flight plan and he did it. After that he had gone to the aviators’ cabinet, he saw through the windows, the presidential plane taking off, surrounded by cars and SUVs. After about 15 minutes, the pilot called him via satellite phone this time and asked him about the frequency of Tripoli.
Saleh Jamali –head of a team in the VIP lounge at Tunis-Carthage International Airport
At 2 pm, on January 14 2011, many members of the Trabelsi and Ben Ali family arrived to the VIP lounge at the airport without prior notice, accompanied by Presidential Security agents and the Governor of the airport. The majority did not have tickets, which delayed their registration process. The VIP lounge is relatively isolated, since it is located next to the airport’s main terminal. The members of two families were rushing to end the required process to leave the country because of the events they were experiencing. At 3:45 pm, a group of anti-terrorism agents entered the lounge, and ordered everyone’s hands up.
The TV team that went to the airport
The official TV team was assigned to carry out a secret task. The team consisted of Aarem al-Rajaibi, a journalist in the news section, a cameraman and his assistant; Aarem was contacted by the president who told him about the task at 6:30pm, after the departure of the crew to the palace of Carthage to record the Prime Minister Mohammed al-Ghannouchi’s speech. When they arrived to the VIP lounge at the airport, the security agents informed them that they will tape the process of arresting members of the Trabelsi family and take photos of the anti-terrorism elements who lined up in full readiness. The journalist asked the news director to send another TV team; the second team arrived after a while and they taped the Trabelsi family members inside the lounge and then when they were getting on a military bus. When they had accomplished their task, a security official asked them to hand him over the tape and after that he insisted, they gave him the tape.
Shawki al-Alawi - Director of Tunisian television
Between 5 pm and 6 pm, he received a call from an unknown person who informed him that the Tunisian army has arrested members of Trabelsi and Ben Ali family while they were trying to get out of the country and that person asked him to send a TV crew to the airport to cover the event. Then a presidential security agent called him and asked him to send a TV crew to the Palace of Carthage to record a historic statement for the Tunisian people. He called the Minister of Communication Samir al-Obeidi and they both agreed to broadcast breaking news stating “In a few minutes, a historic speech will be broadcast to the Tunisian people”. They also agreed to send a team to the palace of Carthage, and around 8 pm, Alawi received a call from the central broadcast hall, and he was requested by technicians to come to the hall, where he found many elements of the Presidential Security with machine guns, and the officer ordered him to broadcast a tape he was carrying right away and indeed it was broadcast under the supervision of the Presidential Security and their weapons.
Mohammed Ali al-Ghoul – Head of the special units if the National Guard
Around 2 pm on January 14 2011, Ghoul received instructions from the central operations department, to go to the presidential palace in Carthage with five teams, to protect it from any external aggression. A security officer in the presidential palace was at their reception near the Palace and positioned the elements in several places. A presidential security officer asked him if they had received any order to fire on a helicopter flying near the palace, and he answered him that they had not. In the meantime a car belonging to the vanguard of the presidential security came and the driver’s companion told him “If the plane flew over the palace, you should open fire on it”. So he contacted wirelessly his boss at work and told him what he heard from the vanguard of the Presidential Security, so his boss replied that the National Guard cannot take decisions regarding firing or not. He continued the combing task in the vicinity of the presidential palace till 5:15 pm, where he received an order from his boss telling him to withdraw and join the Tunis-Carthage International airport, in order to arrest Trabelsi family members, who were planning to flee the country. He went there with four teams that were guarding the palace from the outside.
Hamed Ben Aabrouk - Head of the security department in the presidential security
Starting January 12, 2011 exceptional measures were taken to protect the presidential palace in Carthage. A number of anti-aircraft machine guns were placed in high places in the palace, and on January 13, many patrols came to support the national army and they were distributed around the palace. At 1 pm on January 14, Aabrouk received a call from the Central operation Hall informing him about the demonstrators’ intention to attack the presidential palace.
Rida Karira - Minister of National Defence
On January 7 2011, the President decided that the national army should be engaged in operations to maintain security; these operations were within the legal military duties. He gave his instructions to the units to secure the headquarters of the presidency in coordination with the Ministry of Interior.
On Sunday January 9, Karira received a call from the President who told him to circulate that the army will interfere on the Republic’s territories, and asked him to go to the Ministry of Interior to meet with the Minister of the Interior. So he went accompanied by Generals Rashid Ammar and Ahmad Shabbir. Leaders of the National Guard, the head of the Presidential Security Ali Asseryati, and the Secretary-General of the Constitutional Democratic Bloc Mohammed al-Ghariani, attended the meeting. They agreed on a joint action plan and then he left the meeting. When he returned to the ministry, he told the officers who attended the meeting that no one can interfere in the Ministry of National Defense, except the President who is the supreme commander of the armed forces and the coordination process between the two ministries began.
On the evening of January 13, Asseryati called him and told him that the army should move more effectively or they will not find anyone in Carthage on the next day, so he answered that the army is doing its duty and everything requested from it. General Ammar informed him that some police and National Guard elements are about to hand over their weapons to the national army in the military barracks so he ordered him to stop the operation so he asks the President. It had passed 8pm so he called Prime Minister Mohamed al-Ghannouchi, and told him that he can feel a coup d’état looming in the horizon where the security forces are handing over their weapons to the army and he asked him to talk with the Minister of the Interior. Subsequently, the Prime Minister asked to communicate directly with Ahmed Fariaa, the Minister of the Interior.
In the early morning, on January 14, around 7 am, he called the President and expressed his fears of handing over the weapons to the army, but the president has not given any importance for this matter and he responded that it is better to give it to the army instead of being seized by the citizens, and he asked him to take over the weapon. Between midday and 1pm, the President called him and spoke to him in a confused tone and he felt that the president was afraid, the latter said, “There is a helicopter with masked security agents on their way to the palace, and they want kill me! What is it?”. The minister was surprised about this and answered that the only party that has the helicopters is the army and that he did not authorize any aircraft to fly over the capital so the president asked him to verify it. He contacted the Chief of Staff of the Air Force General al-Ojaimi, and he called back President Ben Ali, who asked him, “Why is Asseryati hallucinating?”.
Around 3 pm, when he was in the operating room at the ministry of defense President Ben Ali called him and told him that he had decided that General Rashid Ammar will coordinate between the army and the MOI, and that the latter must go directly to the Ministry of Interior. General Rashid Ammar was beside him, so Karira told him the instructions of the President and asked him to go to the Ministry of Interior. He has not received any call from him till the departure of President Ben Ali, when he told him about the chaos and turmoil in the Ministry of Interior.
At 5:30 pm, General Altayyib al-Ojaimi called him and told him about the departure of the jet inside the military barracks at al-Ouainia. He was surprised about it and asked him to be sure whether he had seen President Ben Ali leaving or not. He confirmed that the latter had fled and added that there were security elements under the commands of Asseryati, and that he feared that conflicts would arise between them. He asked him if Asseryati had traveled with the president, so he answered that he is still in the military barracks. He told him “disarm Asseryati, arrest him and do not let him make any phone call, then take him to a proper hall, and tell him that these are the Minister of Defense’s instructions”.
Five minutes after the presidential plane took off, he received a call on his mobile phone from a foreign number. A stammered person talked to him and told him: “You are talking with the president”, so he asked him about his whereabouts and the president answered that he was on the plane, and then the call failed. He contacted Prime Minister Mohamed al-Ghannouchi on his mobile phone and told him about President Ben Ali’s departure, and that Asseryati was arrested. Ghannouchi was surprised and asked him about the reason so he said that he will explain it later on. At that time he asked the Prime Minister about his whereabouts and the latter answered that he has arrived in front of the presidential palace, so he asked him not to enter the palace but the prime minister answered “I will enter and what God’s will shall guide me”.
Karira answered “The president left, and you are no longer Prime Minister and I am not the Minister of Defense anymore” and then he told him that he will be calling him each now and then to check on him in the palace, and indeed, he was calling him from time to time. Then he attended the meeting at the Ministry of Interior with the Prime Minister and the leaders of the Army Staff; the meeting lasted till 3 am.
General Rashid Ammar – Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces
On January 11 2011, General Ammar received instructions from the Ministry of Defense Rida Karira following the orders of the President of Republic, requiring to remove the military helmet of the army deployed in the battleground. He expressed surprise at this decision which threatened the safety of the soldiers and he ordered that the soldiers wear red helmets to distinguish them from other formations. On the evening of January 13, some units of police, guards and customs handed over their weapons to the military barracks, so he notified the Ministry of Defense who was irritated and suspicious. General Ammar suggested the necessity to receive and bring out the weapons as the security locations were burnt and plundered by the citizens.
On January 14, when he was observing the situations, he received a phone call from Asseryati who asked about the situation in Habib Bourakiba Avenue and he requested to consolidate the army units there, so he assured him that there is nothing frightening about it. He noticed that Asseryati was afraid that the angry crowd head to Carthage palace, so three armored forces were sent to the surroundings of Carthage Palace. At 12:14, Asseryati called him again and told him that President Ben Ali was informed from foreign sources that Rashid al-Ghannouchi, leader of Renaissance Party, will arrive to Tunis-Carthage International Airport, and the airport is not equipped with guarding.
Asseryati was afraid of this information, but he relieved his worry. Later on, he informed him that the houses of some members of Trabelsi family were burnt, and he asked him to consolidate the protection of these houses so he replied that the mission of the army is to protect the public installations not the private ones. Meanwhile, Asseryati received a phone call informing him about prisoners’ mutiny in Bourj al-Roumi prison, so he confirmed that he will not permit the escape of any prisoner.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Defense called him and informed him that he received a phone call from the President inquiring about a helicopter intended to target him at the presidential palace, so he replied furiously “Please do not disturb us, what about this helicopter, why is it over the palace?” Then, he knew that President Ben Ali called the Minister of Defense Rida Karira and informed him about a military helicopter carrying a group of anti-terrorism forces, willing to come to the presidential palace in Carthage, and President Ben Ali gave his instructions to Asseryati about the necessity to bring down that helicopter by using anti-aircraft weapons. The minister of defense verified that information and informed the President about military helicopters coming from Benzirt in charge of carrying some members of competent units of army to strengthen the protection of the capital. When the Minister of Defense explained this matter to the President, he replied that Asseryati is hallucinating. General Rashid Ammar was present in the operations room at the Ministry of National Defense. At 3 o’clock, the Ministry of Defense received a phone call from President Ben Ali including instructions to send General Rashid Ammar to the Ministry of Interior in order to coordinate between the army and police, and the state of emergency was announced throughout the Republic.
At 3:15, he went to the Ministry of Interior and he received a call from the Minister of Defense and informed him that the President told him “there are Islamists inserted into the anti-terrorism troop who have forbidden his family to travel at the airport and the President requests to eliminate them even by killing them if necessary. General Rashid Ammar asked him to put the speakerphone so that the Minister of Interior Ahmad Fariaa hears this story, the Ministry of Defense narrated again the story, General Rashid Ammar found these information odd, and it was considered as serious threats more than special information, after other news were reported about the intention of martial watercraft to attack the presidential palace, which makes the palace targeted. He contacted the security leaderships to inquire about what is happening at the airport, and was amazed that the leadership did not issue any directives concerning that matter. He asked Brigadier General Jalal Boudarika, Director General of the Intervention Force Regiment, to head for the airport to check the situation after Major Samir al-Tarhuni refused to answer the phone calls. Upon his arrival to the airport, Jalal Boudarika informed him that Major Samir al-Tarhuni refuses to answer his questions about who issued the instructions for him, and he was arresting some members of Trabelsi and Ben Ali families as hostages. General Rashid Ammar believes that he follows the orders of someone he ignores, whereas after he knew about the departure of the President Ben Ali, he invented the request of TV team to shoot the event so that it looks like a heroic operation by a personal initiative from al-Tarhuni.
General Ammar did not know about the departure of President Ben Ali from the country, as at 5:55, he received a phone call from someone called Sami Sik Salem asking him to head to the presidential palace, but he informed him that he cannot act unless by instructions of the Minister of Defense, and he was occupied at that time, by liberating the hostages at the airport whereas the Minister of Defense Rida Karira was calling him and asking him to use the force, but he refused that order and he informed the Minister that he will act to avoid the bloodshed at the airport. General Rashid Ammar was amazed as he was not informed about the departure of President Ben Ali, and he knew by chance at 6 o’clock about the detention of Asseryati at the military base in Ouainia, and he was amazed that no one informed him that President Ben Ali arrived to the military barracks under his supervision and that he stayed one hour there.
At 8:20, President Ben Ali called him on his cell phone and said: “This is the President … What is the current situation of the country? Are you controlling the situations? Can I return this night?” General replied “the situation is unclear in general Mr. President” and the President told him “I will call you tomorrow”, and he never called again.
Colonel-Major Ahmad Shabir - Director General of Military Security
On January 14, 2011, sites of security posts and National Guard were attacked, movements of disobedience in the prisons were registered, a security vacuum was noticed in the country as residential quarters, commercial stores and public installations were attacked, and chaos occurred in the whole country.
The Air force chief of staff informed him at noon, that he was requested by General Asseryati to ensure military helicopter to accomplish an air watch in the capital Tunisia. Moreover, he informed him that he submitted the matter to Rida Karira, the Minister of Defense, who advised him to put in charge an officer from the General Administration of Military Security who shall be armed.
He noticed that the Ministry of Defense is afraid of Asseryati as he told him one day ago during a phone conversation that he is suspicious of Asseryati. The helicopter’s watch was accomplished on two stages, and the Air Force Chief of Staff was informing him in time about what is happening. Later on, he was informed that Ali Asseryati told the Air Force Chief of Staff to prepare the presidential plane and he informed the Ministry of Defense about that, who received the news normally, and he informed the Ministry of Defense about their entry to military barracks and the Minister was aware of that.
Then, he received a call from the Minister of Defense and he informed that “There is an armed group who is prohibiting family members to travel, you should use force with them to liberate the detained members”. He replied that he will be looking in the subject, and he was informed about the departure of the presidential plane carrying president Ben Ali, at 6 pm, he received a phone call from General Ojaimi, and informed him about the request of the Minister of Defense to ensure a plane to transport members of Trabelsi family to Jarba and he informed him that he does not agree because the army does not transport civil people in its planes, and that the Ministry of Defense told him that if Asseryati was willing to leave, a plane can be ensured and he cannot stay in the country. Major General Shabir disagreed on the idea of the plane, then, Ministry of Defense Rida Karira called him and informed him that he issued his instructions to arrest Asseryati in Ouainia barracks. Ahmad Shabir issued his instructions to receive Asseryati after he was arrested by soldiers at Ouainia barracks and he was in charge of transporting him to Bab Saadoun barracks, subsidiary to the military security.
Colonel Elias Mankabi – Assistant of Commander of Military Base in Ouainia
On January 14, 2011, unusual activity occurred at the military airport in Ouainia around 4:30 after the entry of the presidential plane crew to the military base, specifically to the hangar of the plane, so he informed the Air Force Chief of Staff General al-Ojaimi about it, who requested the matter be followed up and inform him about all the movements.
At 4:55, he was shocked by the entry of the presidential convoy at the military base through the main door on the national road, and it was the first time the convoy enters through that entrance, then, the convoy stopped in front of the VIP lounge; the convoy consisted of 13 cars and two cars for transport accompanied by 30 to 35 assistants of the presidential security carrying weapons, at the head of them Director General of presidential security Asseryati. They were wearing civil uniform, and when welcoming them, the bodyguards pull out their weapons, so he realized that President Ben Ali was among the convoy, so they went away and did not come close to them. The convoy stopped in front of the VIP lounge for minutes, and Asseryati was clarifying the matter, then the convoy headed to the presidential plane hangar as some cars entered to the hangar and it was difficult to see what is happening.
He was observing the events and informing General al-Ojaimi about the news, meanwhile, the presidential plane headed to the runway accompanied by cars of presidential security until the plane took off, and he informed General al-Ojaimi. The cars moved to the VIP lounge carrying Asseryati and Mohsen Rahim, chief of presidential protocol, and they entered to the VIP lounge. Rahim and Asseryati were making phone calls, when General al-Ojaimi called him inquiring about the presence or leaving of Asseryati, so he informed him that he is present, so he asked him to distract him until the group of army forces arrived to the location, and asked him to submit his weapon and cell phone, and arrested him, and for avoiding clashes with the members of presidential security, he asked secretly the Commander of presidential convoy to leave, who asked for the permission of Asseryati and left with Rahim, the chief of protocol. When the presidential convoy left, two cars parked carrying the president’s daughter and her husband with elements of presidential security. They stayed out of the VIP lounge, so he gave his instructions to close the entrances of the military base and prohibit the entry of anyone.
Accompanied by three members of Special Forces, he approached from Ali Asseryati and asked him to submit his weapon and his cell phone, at about 6:30, then he headed to the bodyguards of Ghazwa Ben Ali and made them lie on the floor, and removed their personal weapons, and he brought them to the VIP lounge next to Ali Asseryati. He sat next to Asseryati who was wondering about the reason of his detention as he did not cause any problems to the country; meanwhile, General al-Ojaimi ordered to release the daughter of the president and her husband.