Tunisia: New Details in Opposition Assassination Point to Libyan Islamist

Protesters shout slogans and hold up portraits of assassinated Tunisian opposition figure Chokri Belaid during a demonstration in Tunis on 2 October 2013 organised to pressure the ruling Islamist party to tell the truth on the attack blamed on radical Islamists. AFP - Fethi Belaid)

By: Noureddine Baltayeb

Published Thursday, October 3, 2013

As many had expected, Tayeb Oqaili, member of the national initiative working to uncover the truth behind the assassinations of Chokri Belaid and Mohammed Brahmi, has made public secret information ostensibly implicating the ruling al-Nahda Movement in the assassination of Belaid, who was the leader of the opposition Tunisian Popular Front – and Oqaili’s close friend. The information links a Libyan militia led by Islamist leader Abdul-Hakim Belhadj to the assassination.

Belhadj, who was active in the 1980s and 90s with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), is credited with leading the attack on the stronghold of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Bab al-Aziziya during the Libyan uprising.

The left-wing leader maintained that at a time when security leaders and intelligence operatives had Belhadj under close observation, leaders in al-Nahda were seen meeting and talking with him.The revelations were made on Wednesday, October 2, during a press conference held by Oqaili on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, a few meters away from the heavily-guarded Interior Ministry. Oqaili revealed he had documents from early January 2011, circulated by Interior Ministry official Wahid al-Toujani, instructing the security services to keep tabs on Belhadj, who apparently intended to carry out terrorist attacks in Tunisia. The left-wing leader maintained that at a time when security leaders and intelligence operatives had Belhadj under close observation, leaders in al-Nahda were seen meeting and talking with him.

According to Oqaili, those leaders include the movement's chief Rachid Ghannouchi, former prime minister Hamadi Jebali, current Prime Minister Ali al-Arid, Minister Noureddine Buhairi, and Minister Samir Dilou, who lied in an interview with Radio Mosaïque when he denied having ever met Belhadj.

To be sure, pictures were circulated on social media sites showing Dilou meeting with Belhadj in the city of Zarzis, confirming the information brought forward by Oqaili, who said, “It was Belhadj who handled the training of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, including the cell that would go on to assassinate Belaid and Brahmi. This confirms that the Libyan leader was involved in both murders.”

For its part, al-Nahda scrambled to call a meeting of its executive council to respond to what it called “serious allegations.” Al-Nahda said it would assign its legal division to sue Oqaili, who stressed he was ready to face any legal action.

Oqaila also said that the weapons caches found successively in Tunisia after the first one was discovered in Medenine, in the southeast near Libya, were directly linked to the LIFG’s activities in Tunisia, in coordination with al-Nahda. Oqaili purported that Belhadj and his group have been training Tunisians in collaboration with al-Nahda, something he said was in line with the thinking of Islamic groups that place partisan affiliation above national identity.

The public prosecutor has decided to begin an investigation into the documents disclosed by Oqaili.

In truth, these allegations did not come as a surprise to many Tunisians. To a large segment of the Tunisian public, al-Nahda’s direct or indirect involvement in political assassinations and the proliferation of weapons is almost taken for granted.

In the same vein, the official spokesperson for the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the body currently leading national reconciliation efforts, said that the leadership of the organization received warnings from the Interior Ministry, saying that there was a need for caution because of credible threats to the lives of a number of UGTT leaders. According to Sami Tahiri, UGTT member, there have been serious attempts to target trade unionists and the headquarters of the organization in the provinces.

At a later time, Belhadj, in a statement to the independent Tunisian News Agency, denied having anything to do with Ansar al-Sharia – the group accused by the Tunisian Interior Ministry of masterminding the wave of assassinations seen in the past months – or any knowledge of Belaid and Brahmi.

The Libyan leader, who has been involved in the political process in his home country through a new political party, stressed that he was opposed to any meddling in Tunisian affairs. Belhadj expressed his surprise at the allegations.

At any rate, the documents revealed by Oqaili are expected to cause further controversy ahead of the third anniversary of the fall of the regime. Meanwhile, reaching political consensus is almost impossible in the country of Mohammed Bouazizi, the man whose death sparked the Tunisian revolution. The majority of the Tunisian people today suffer from despair, frustration, and perhaps even regret because of the outcome of the Tunisian revolution and the Arab revolutions so far.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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