Tunisia detains 86 after Salafi Islamist riots over art exhibition


Tunisian police have detained 86 people, after Salafi Islamists, angered by an art exhibition they say insults Islam, attacked government offices and clashes with security forces overnight, the interior ministry said Tuesday.

Police fired tear gas to repel the violent rampage by a mixed group of ultra-conservative Salafists and other attackers, who torched and pillaged a local court in west Tunis and attacked several police stations in the north of the capital, ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche said.

Seven officers were slightly injured in the clashes, he added.

“The fact that the violence erupted in several places at the same time makes us think that it was organized,” said Tarrouche, adding that an investigation had been launched.

He added that security forces have been deployed to all the sites concerned and “will not allow any act of violence.”

At Essijoumi in west Tunis, the court prosecutor's office was burnt down while the wreckage of a civil protection truck remained in the middle of the road early Tuesday.

“A group of criminals attacked the court at around 10 pm. There was a lot of destruction, and computers were stolen,” state prosecutor Amor Ben Mansour told AFP.

“It's serious because the court represents the sovereignty of the state,” he added.

Other areas, including Ettadhamen and Intilaka in the west of the city, were also hit by the violence.

In the northern suburb of La Marsa, attackers tried to enter a gallery where several paintings had been slashed a day ago by Islamists.

The regional office of the powerful union UGTT in Tunisia's northwestern town of Jendouba was also burned early Tuesday by Salafist groups, TAP agency said.

Justice Minister Nourredine Bhiri condemned the “terrorist act” and pledged that the guilty would “pay a heavy price.”

“These are terrorist groups which lost control, they were isolated in society,” Bhiri told radio Shems FM.

The Salafists have in recent weeks intensified their violence in Tunisia, and Jendouba was among towns whose police stations were torched and bars attacked by the Islamists, some armed with clubs and swords.

Moderate Tunisians have also expressed deep concern over the rising power of the radical Salafists since the revolution that toppled the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The Salafist movement comprises several branches. Some adherents focus strictly on religion, some are politicians and some are jihadists who see violence as a legitimate means to impose their faith.

Researchers put Salafist numbers in Tunisia at around 10,000.