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Tunisia policeman dies after attack, security unions seek more protection

TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian police officer who was stabbed by a suspected Islamist died of his wounds on Thursday, and security unions threatened to stage protests if parliament fails to legislate tougher protections for security force personnel.

FILE PHOTO: A forensic personnel from the Tunisian police works at the site where a suspected Islamist militant was arrested after wounding two policemen in a knife attack near the parliament building in Tunis, Tunisia November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

The suspect, named as Zied Gharbi, was arrested on Wednesday after two policemen suffered knife wounds near the parliament. He shouted “Allahu Akbar” - God is greatest - as he stabbed the policeman in the neck, witness and officials said.

The attack was close to the Bardo museum where 21 people, mostly European tourists, were killed in an attack by gunmen in March 2015.

Tunisia suffered two other major attacks that year, one against tourists at the beach resort of Sousse and the other against presidential guards in the capital.

“Our colleague Riadh Barrouta died Thursday after the terrorist attack in Bardo yesterday,” Walid Hkima, a national security spokesman, said.

The attacker was 25 and from Ettadamen, one of the largest, poorest suburbs of Tunis.

The Interior Ministry said Wednesday’s attacker had confessed that “he had adopted Takfiri thought three years ago and believes that killing security forces is a form of jihad”.


Takfiri is a term for a hardline Sunni Muslim who labels followers of other schools of Islam unbelievers, often as a justification for fighting them.

Zied Gharbi has no ties with Islamist groups, but he had been influenced by hardline ideology on the Internet, officials said.

“Initial investigations showed that this terrorist does not belong to any terrorist organization, he had not received orders from any group,” Hkima said.

Security unions said in a joint statement on Thursday they would give the parliament two weeks to approve a new law strengthening punishments for assaults on security forces.

The bill, sent to the parliament two years ago, also aims to give policemen more powers in the face of any possible threat.

“If the parliament will not pass the bill in two weeks, we will stop providing personal protection to political party leaders and will hold protests. We will escalate”, the statement added.

Parliament speaker Mohamed Naceur said on Wednesday that the bill should be expedited, but added that a dialogue with civil society should be held to respect human rights and the constitution.

Local and international organizations including Human Rights Watch have rejected the bill, asked to withdraw it from parliament and said it promotes a culture of impunity.

The 2015 attacks severely damaged the economy of the North African country, where tourists visiting its Mediterranean coast are a significant source of revenue. Since then, security has been boosted and authorities have cracked down on militants, dismantling dozens of cells.

Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Larry King and William Maclean