Protesters wave flags and shout slogans during a demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy in Tunis (Photo: Reuters)
In Tunisia's central Sidi Bouzid governorate, a lawyer – who preferred to remain anonymous – provided Ahram Online with access to an official investigation document of Salafist leading figure Al-Khatib Al-Idrisi Al-Bukhari.
The two-page probe document from 28 January 2007 is in the possession of the interior ministry's state security department, and is comprised of Al-Idrisi's responses to questions from Tunisian investigators.
Al-Idrisi’s responses speak to different stages of his life from the time he was born in August 1955 in Sidi Bouzid to the moment he embraced Salafist principles in the mid-1970s.
During the investigation, the extremist cleric admits that his years in Saudi Arabia, which began in 1985, played the most significant role in shaping his political and religious orientations.
"I started being committed to praying in 1976, and I frequently visited the Kaaba after I moved to Saudi Arabia in 1985 to be a nurse at King Faisal hospital in Mecca,” he was quoted as saying.
"At the Kaaba, I attended religious sessions calling for the adoption of Salafist thought, which considered jihad as a commitment for all Muslims; this is what persuaded me to believe in the above mentioned way of thinking."
Al-Idrisi, blind in one eye, is regarded as the most famous Salafist scholar for Tunisian jihadists. He learned his thoughts about Islam in Saudi Arabia from Bin Baz, one of the most prominent Salafist scholars of the 20th century.
Al-Idrisi's Salafist movement has always been a target of Ben Ali's regime. Al-Idrisi was arrested in 2006 after his followers clashed with security forces, facing a two-year imprisonment sentence on charges of issuing fatwas that covered up terrorist activities.
He was put under house arrest until 2011 when Tunisia's transitional government issued a general amnesty for all anti-Ben Ali political prisoners.
The Tunisian radical sheikh has signified a key, religious-ideological reference to Ansar Al-Sharia group. Al-Sharia attacked the US embassy in 2012 and has implemented militant operations in the Mount Chaambi region, close to the border with Algeria.
The US State Department has listed three groups called Ansar Al-Sharia as separate foreign terror organisations and targeted their leaders with sanctions. Two of them, according to the Wall Street Journal, are based in Libya, while the third is in Tunisia.