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Salafists claim Tunisia hotel bar attack, inquiry stalls

Renewed attack by radical Islamists in Tunisia targets a hotel bar; no casualties reported

AFP , Wednesday 5 Sep 2012
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A group of Salafist militants claimed responsibility on Wednesday for the attack on a hotel bar in central Tunisia, saying they were responding to "the demands of the people."

"It was done in response to the demands of the people," Wael Amami, a member of the "Salafist jihadi" group, told AFP, two days after the raid.

"The youths just smashed the bottles of alcohol... They did not hit anyone," said Amami, estimating that between 15 and 20 customers were present at the moment of the attack, which took place in Sidi Bouzid's Hotel Horchani.

He also said the group had warned the hotel management over the sale of alcohol, which nevertheless continued.

On Monday, bearded men burst into the hotel, which hosted Sidi Bouzid's last working bar, smashing bottles and chasing away customers, before raiding the reception and the upstairs rooms, shouting "Allahu Akbar" and "Al-Sharab haram" (drinking is a sin).

An interior ministry official said on Wednesday that the inquiry was ongoing, but admitted that no arrests had been made because the hotel manager "did not want to identify" the suspects.

Lotfi Hidouri said the police had summoned those suspected of carrying out the attack, but was unable to elaborate on the number or identity of the people implicated.

Amami said the young man trying to film the raid, who was beaten by members of the group before being taken away according to witnesses, had been released.

"We just held him for the time it took to check that there were not images on his mobile phone," he added.

Amami said his group, again complying with popular request, was also combatting the proliferation of illegal alcohol outlets in the central Tunisian town.

"The residents complain, but the police don't interfere," he charged.

Amami gained notoriety when he was sentenced to life in prison under the regime of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, after bloody clashes with the army in Soliman, near the capital, in 2007.

He was released under an amnesty, following last year's revolution.

Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the uprising that Ben Ali last year, is a stronghold of the Salafist movement, which has grown increasingly assertive in recent months.

The North African country has witnessed numerous violent incidents linked to the hardliners, prompting opposition activists to accuse the Islamist-led coalition government of not doing enough to rein them in.

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