Tunisia Allows U.S. Access to Benghazi Suspect as Violence Continues
The Tunisian Government has agreed to allow U.S. authorities access to a man detained in connection to the September attacks on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi. Earlier in the week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had warned that the U.S.-Tunisia relationship could be “in serious jeopardy” due to Tunisia’s refusal to allow the U.S. to question the suspect, Ali Ani al-Harzi. In response to the news on Friday, Graham, the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that they were “very pleased the Tunisian government is working with American investigators to allow in person access to Ali Ani al Harzi…. Allowing American investigators in person access will make the interview more meaningful and is a welcome breakthrough in our efforts to find the perpetrators of the Benghazi Consulate attacks. This tight collaboration between our countries shows the growing strength of our partnership.” The statement also noted that “Tunisia is where the Arab Spring began and these latest events reaffirm the growing alliance between our two countries. We look forward to working with the Tunisian government to strengthen the ties between our two countries.” The new agreement stipulates that Tunisia will supervise all interviews with the al-Harzi.
Tunisian Interior Minister Ali Larayedh said that al-Harzi is “strongly suspected ” of taking part in the attacks, but al-Harzi’s lawyer said that “no evidence exists” to support the allegations. The lawyer also accused the U.S. of “trying to intervene in the Tunisian judiciary system.”
Prominent Salafi imam Nasreddine Aloui declared war on Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda Party on Thursday after accusing Ennahda of “[choosing] the United States as their god” and urging the youth to “prepare their burial shrouds” for a fight against the government. Larrayedh and Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice Samir Dilou said Aloui’s words are “partly responsible for the bloodshed.” Tunisia Live reporter Paul Rosenfeld said that police were on high alert in Manouba Governorate near Tunis, home to Aloui’s Ennour Mosque and the site of recent clashes between alcohol vendors, hard-line Islamists and police forces. The previous Ennour imam was killed along with another protester during an attack on a national guard post in the area on Tuesday.
A New York Times editorial warned of “new tensions between the moderate Islamic government and liberal secularist opposition parties,” a sign of increasing polarization and pessimism about the direction of politics in Tunisia. Tunisian author Souhir Stephenson offered an even darker picture of the country in an op-ed on Thursday, highlighting a recent spate of violence and arguing that Tunisia has “no democracy, no trust in elected officials, [and] no improved constitution.” On Wednesday, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki extended the country’s state of emergency laws through January and Amnesty International condemned the conviction of two journalists on public indecency charges.