A Tunisian Islamist waves a Salafist flag reading 'there is only one God' during a rally
A Tunisian Islamist waves a Salafist flag reading 'there is only one God' during a rally on May 20 in Kairouan. Tunisian Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri threatened Monday to punish Salafist Muslims who push their views on others too hard, after radical Islamists forced a series of bars to close. © Fethi Belaid - AFP/File
A Tunisian Islamist waves a Salafist flag reading 'there is only one God' during a rally
AFP
Last updated: May 21, 2012

Justice Minister: Tunisian Islamists who cross line will be punished

Tunisian Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri threatened Monday to punish Salafist Muslims who push their views on others too hard, after radical Islamists forced a series of bars to close.

"I'm telling those people -- the Salafists -- that if they think the state is afraid of them, the game is up and those who cross red lines are going to be punished," Bhiri told private radio station Express FM.

The warning comes after dozens of radical Salafists told the owners of bars and liquor stores in the central city of Sidi Bouzid to shut down or face violent consequences, a local security source told AFP.

The Salafists threatened to use force to "impose their law," the source said -- part of a campaign waged since last Friday to eliminate the sale of alcohol in the city.

On Saturday, Salafists set fire to a local alcohol warehouse, angering some residents who in turn set alight a pile of tyres and fired shots with a hunting rifle in front of a downtown mosque, interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarouch told AFP.

"An investigation has been opened to identify those responsible," he said.

More moderate Tunisians have voiced deep concern over the rising power of radical Salafists since the revolution that toppled the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last year and touched off the Arab Spring.

The Salafist movement comprises several branches. Some adherents focus strictly on religion, some are politicians and some are jihadists who see violence as a legitimate means to impose their faith.

Researchers put the Salafists' numbers at around 10,000.

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