Tunisia frees Salafist sheikh expelled by Egypt

AFP , Friday 5 Apr 2013

The Justice ministry says Tunisia freed a Salafist sheikh coming from Egypt

Tunisia freed on Friday a Salafist sheikh arrested on arrival after being expelled by Egypt for falsifying travel papers for jihadists, saying he was not guilty, the justice ministry said.

Tunisian Imed ben Salah, also known as Abou Abdallah Ettounsi, was arrested on March 21 and ordered out of Egypt, according to press reports, for organising the falsification of documents to help jihadists travel to combat zones.

"The prosecutor freed Imed ben Salah, in the absence of a crime being committed," ministry spokesman Adel Riahi told AFP, adding that he was freed late on Thursday.

When Ben Salah arrived at Tunis airport earlier on Thursday, he was arrested amid a tight security presence after radical Islamist websites called for a big turnout to welcome him.

Police manned checkpoints around the airport to keep Salafists away from the building, an AFP photographer reported, and armed police with dogs patrolled the arrivals hall.

Since its January 2011 revolution, Tunisia has witnessed a proliferation of jihadist groups, which have been blamed for a wave of deadly attacks, notably on the US embassy in Tunis last September that left four of the assailants dead.

Tunisia's government has warned of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda's north African franchise infiltrating the country's borders and trafficking weapons, notably to northern Mali.

The judiciary opened an investigation in mid-March into a network recruiting and sending Tunisians to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces alongside Islamist insurgents.

Tunisia's secular opposition accuses the government, led by Prime Minister Ali Larayedh of the Islamist Ennahda party, of having a lax attitude towards radical Islamism.

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