Tunisia says foiled plot to kidnap local Jews

TUNIS Thu Nov 1, 2012 11:17am EDT

Jewish men pray inside the blue-tiled El Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba following a wedding ceremony May 10, 2012. REUTERS/Anis Mili

Jewish men pray inside the blue-tiled El Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba following a wedding ceremony May 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Anis Mili

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian police have arrested four people for allegedly plotting to kidnap local Jews for ransom, an official said on Thursday, stoking insecurity in the dwindling Jewish community after last year's "Arab Spring" revolt led to a resurgence of Islamists.

There are less than 2,000 Jews in Tunisia, mostly living in the town of Zarzis and the nearby island of Djerba in the south of the country.

"The security forces intercepted a plan to kidnap young Jews in Zarzis. Police arrested four young men and seized two weapons," the official, Lofi Hidouri, told Reuters.

Perez Trabelsi, head of the Jewish community in Djerba, said a policeman was among the four arrested.

"There is a big worry in Djerba and Zarzis. The government should provide us with more protection," Trablesi said.

An "intimidation campaign" was underway to force Jews to leave, he said. "This our country, we will not leave it."

As in other north African countries, the number of Jews living in Tunisia dwindled from tens of thousands after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 prompted many to migrate to avoid possible Arab reprisals.

Islamists in the ruling Ennahda - which won elections after the overthrow of authoritarian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last year - have met local Jewish leaders to reassure them that their rise to power would not hurt the Jewish community.

But with religious tensions growing in Tunisia - including clashes between hardline Salafists and police - the Jewish community remains anxious.

A few weeks after Ben Ali fled Tunisia, a synagogue in the city of Ghabes was set alight.

No one was hurt and the incident appeared to be isolated, but it revived memories of an al Qaeda attack in 2002 that killed 21 tourists after an explosive-laden truck blew up near a synagogue in Djerba.

An annual pilgrimage to Djerba, which attracts thousands of Sepharadic Jews from around the world, was cancelled in 2011 because visitors were reluctant to wade into the charged political environment of the Arab Spring.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Writing by Souhail Karam; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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