Interior Ministry Spokesperson Calls Salafist Riots “Terrorist Acts,” Threatens Use of Live Ammmunition

News article, posted 06.25.2012, from Tunisia, in:
Interior Ministry Spokesperson Calls Salafist Riots “Terrorist Acts,” Threatens Use of Live Ammmunition (Photo: Tunisia Live)

Summary: Representatives from various ministries of the Tunisian government participated in a June 12th press conference addressing the Al Abdellia art exposition along with the violent reaction that followed it.

Khaled Tarrouche, spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, called the ultra conservative manifestations and riots following Al Abdellia "terrorist acts." He also insisted that live ammunition could be used in response to the riots if the violence continued. Tunisia Live called Tarrouche's remarks "perhaps his most incendiary" yet.

As noted by Tunisia Live, Tarrouche also confirmed that sixty-five police officers had been wounded during the riot control efforts, whereas 162 suspects were later arrested over June 12th and 13th in connection to the violence.

Government officials also confirmed that the controversial Al Abdellia exposition, at the source of ultraconservative rage, will be forced to close its doors immediately. The exposition's organizers will also be taken to court for their presentation of artistic works "offensive to Islam." As Tunisia Live notes, "One of the most controversial pieces included the name of god, allah in arabic, written with dead flies." The "forced closing" may be mostly for show, Tunisia Live also notes, as the exposition was scheduled to close Sunday, June 17th, anyway. Tunisia Live considered that this made "the announcement largely symbolic."

Ennahdha member and Minister of Religious Affairs Nourredine Khadmi reiterated that the law will punish offenses to sacred Islamic symbols, while Samir Dilou, prominent Ennahdha member and Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, stated during the press conference that he personally found the Al Abdellia exposition to be offensive and provocative. Tunisia Live notes that Dilou emphasized that the Organization of Fine Arts will be sued for violating its contract with the Ministry of Culture, which had approved the show on the grounds that the organization accept "responsibility for any damages to the site," as described by Tunisia Live. The artists and the rioters will be sanctioned both legally and morally, Dilou continued.

Dilou did also emphasize that the government would not accept activities that jeopardize public security. As Tunisia Live notes, on the evening before the press conference a La Marsa police station was damaged along with a local headquarters of the UGTT workers' union in Jendouba, a courthouse in Sijoumi, just outside of Tunis, as well as a number of private institutions and businesses.

During the same press conference, Ghannouchi attempted to distance the riots from Al-Qaeda head Ayman Al-Zawahiri's call for Tunisians to rise up against the ruling Islamist party, Ennahdha. As noted by Tunisia Live, Ghannouchi told the audience, “I don’t think we have Al Qaeda in Tunisia. The Salafist movement [in Tunisia] may have so much extremism but with time such extremism will vanish. Our own party used to have extremists itself."