Islamist leader threatens to oust Tunisian Prime Minister

Tunis Wed Mar 27, 2013 4:23pm EDT

Tunisia's Prime Minister-designate Ali Larayedh speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki (not seen) in Tunis March 7, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Tunisia's Prime Minister-designate Ali Larayedh speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki (not seen) in Tunis March 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi

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Tunis (Reuters) - The fugitive leader of a radical Islamist group threatened on Wednesday to overthrow Tunisia's government, one day after the prime minister accused him of smuggling weapons into the North African country.

Saif-Allah Benahssine, leader of radical Islamists Ansar al-Sharia, said in a statement on its web page that he would topple Prime Minister Ali Larayedh and throw him into the "dustbin of history" if the government interfered with the group.

Larayedh told French daily Le Monde on Tuesday that Benahssine, whose Salafist organization wants to impose a puritanical form of Islam, was responsible for smuggling in weapons seized by security forces.

Security forces have clashed several times in recent months with militants trying to bring weapons from Algeria and Libya.

Police also seized two big weapons caches in the capital Tunis last month. Last December, Laryedh said police arrested 16 Islamist militants who had been hoarding arms with the aim of creating an Islamic state.

Wednesday's statement was the first time that Benahssine has threatened to overthrow the government.

Also known as Abu Iyadh, Benahssine is wanted by police for allegedly inciting an attack on the U.S. embassy in September. Four people were killed in the disturbances, which began as a protest over a film that mocked the Prophet Mohammed.

The government is led by the moderate Islamic Ennahda Movement, which won the country's first free elections on October 2011 following Tunisia's revolution, the first of the "Arab Spring" revolts.

Tunisian police blamed a Salafist for the assassination of secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid on February 6, which provoked the biggest street protests in Tunisia since the overthrow of strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali two years ago.

Salafists want a broader role for religion, alarming secular elites who fear they seek to impose their strict views at the expense of individual freedoms, women's rights and democracy.

President Moncef Marzouki also said last week that young Tunisians who return home after fighting in the war in Syria were a threat to security.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Jason Webb)

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Comments (2)
MikeBarnett wrote:
This is one more reason to celebrate the “Arab Spring” into endless insurgency. We can watch other people fight wars in the Middle East until the Obama regime decides that vital US national security interests are at stake. Unfortunately, the vital US national security interests are too highly classified to reveal to the public until after the US has several air wings of drones bombing each conflict.

Mar 27, 2013 6:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
bobber1956 wrote:
I bet obama (not the US there is a difference) backs Benahssine.

Mar 27, 2013 7:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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