Members of Tunisian security services protest in front of the interior ministry offices in Tunis on November 1
Members of Tunisian security services protest in front of the interior ministry offices in Tunis on November 1, 2012, against violence they claim to have been victim of from Salafist movements. Tunisian troops and police deployed ahead of the main Muslim weekly prayers outside a flashpoint suburb of the capital on Friday, days after a deadly attack by Salafist militants on national guards posts. © Fethi Belaid - AFP
Members of Tunisian security services protest in front of the interior ministry offices in Tunis on November 1
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Antoine Lambroschini, AFP
Last updated: November 2, 2012

Tunisian army and police deploy near Islamist hotspot

A Tunisian Salafist wanted for allegedly organising an attack on the US embassy called for calm on Friday, as troops and police deployed outside a flashpoint suburb of Tunis following deadly violence earlier this week.

But fugitive Abu Iyadh, chief of Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), warned that there could be another explosion of anger after two Salafists who took part in a Tuesday attack on police posts in the area lost their lives.

"It is possible that a lot of our youth will not be satisfied by an appeal for calm after the events in Douar Hicher," Abu Iyadh said, referring to the quarter of the Manouba suburb.

"I call on you to heed the words of God and to rely upon patience and prayer," the fugitive leader said in a video posted on the Internet.

But while calling for calm and highlighting what he said has been Salafist patience, Abu Iyadh warned the authorities of an "explosion of anger."

"Our brothers who died as martyrs gave their lives for the Umma (worldwide Muslim community) ... and you should be sure that the blood of our brothers will sooner or later bring about the installation of God's law."

Army, police and national guard vehicles and several dozen men deployed on roads leading to Douar Hicher before weekly Muslim prayers, and there were no reports of any unrest in the area.

Salafists, followers of a hardline branch of Sunni Islam, have used Friday prayers in the past to rally their faithful and carry out attacks.

One of those who lost his life this week was the imam of Manouba's Ennour mosque. The man chosen by the congregation to succeed him, who does not have the government's approval, declared war on the Islamist ruling party Ennahda during a television talk show on Thursday night.

"I am going to make war on these people because the interior minister and the leaders of Ennahda have chosen the United States as their god -- it is the Americans who are writing the laws and the new constitution," Nasreddine Aloui said in an appearance by video link on Ettounsiya television.

He urged the country's youth to prepare their burial shrouds to fight against Ennahda, brandishing a white cloth himself and saying Ennahda and other parties want elections held on the "ruins and the bodies of the Salafist movement."

Interior Minister Ali Larayedh and Human Rights Minister Samir Dilou, both members of Ennahda, were on the programme and replied sharply.

"This sort of talk is partly responsible for the bloodshed. You do not realise that your words are like bullets," Larayedh said.

Dilou said: "You are not worthy to be an imam. This talk is an incitement to hatred."

Religious Affairs Minister Nourredine el-Khadmi told a news conference on Friday that around 100 mosques in Tunisia were under the full control of Salafists. He rejected what he said was Aloui's "call to violence."

Abu Iyadh is wanted for organising an attack on the US embassy in September in which four of the assailants were killed.

Jailed under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, he was freed following the revolution that ousted the former president last year and became the key figure in the Tunisian jihadist movement.

He was involved in organising the September 9, 2001 assassination of the Afghan nationalist warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Since the revolution that ousted Ben Ali in January 2011, radical Islamists have carried out a number of attacks, including against security forces and on cultural events.

The opposition accuses the government of failing to rein in violence by Salafists, a hardline branch of Sunni Islam.

But the authorities have vowed to crack down on Islamist violence in the wake of the attack on the US mission.

Last month, Tunisia marked a year since its first free elections in a political climate of tensions within the national assembly and a stalled new constitution.

In June, voters are due to go to the polls to elect a new president and parliament.

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