Salafist leader escapes, Tunisia mosque siege ends

Mon Sep 17, 2012 12:11pm EDT

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(Reuters) - A Tunisian Salafist leader on Monday escaped from a mosque that had been surrounded by security forces seeking to arrest him over clashes at the U.S. embassy last week, a Reuters witness said.

Saif-Allah Benahssine, leader of the Tunisian branch of the hardline Islamist Ansar al-Sharia, slipped away after hundreds of his followers stormed out of al-Fatah mosque in Tunis, some of them wielding sticks and creating panic among pedestrians.

A few minutes earlier, around 1,000 riot and anti-terrorist police forces had retreated by some 200 meters (660 feet) from the mosque for unexplained reasons, witnesses said. Interior Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Souhail Karam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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