Ghannouchi accuses Jihadists of ‘terrorism’ and ‘heresy’
TUNIS - Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia's ruling Islamist party Ennahda, on Monday urged "young Tunisians" not to join the "so-called jihad which has no place here... The jihad is in Palestine, not on Mount Chaambi."
"All young Islamists must know that fighting a Muslim is a heresy," he told the radio station Mosaique FM.
Two Tunisian soldiers were wounded Monday when a device exploded in the Mount Chaambi border region during the ongoing hunt for a jihadist group who have mined the area, the defence ministry said.
Ministry spokesman Colonel Mokhtar Ben Nasr said said the Tunisian army remained "determined to continue with the search operation to track down the terrorists."
But he admitted the military was having trouble securing the area, due to the lack of equipment needed to detect ammonium nitrate, a common but potentially explosive fertiliser used to make bombs.
Last week, 15 members of the security forces were wounded by handmade explosive devices in the remote region near the Algerian border, triggering a major operation to take out the "terrorist" group and demine the area.
The interior ministry admitted on Saturday that it had lost track of the Islamist militants in the wooded mountainous terrain which covers an area of around 100 square kilometres (40 square miles).
It said they numbered no more than 20 people, but a military source involved in the operations said that the group was made up of more than 50 fighters.
Ever since the collapse of the former regime, and especially following the elections of October 23, 2011, Ennahda Islamist leaders have been nothing but conspicuous in their double talk, and lack of self-criticism as they backtracked on previous statements.
In his statement for AFP, the Ennahda leader said: "Salafist jihadists pose a threat to Tunisia. The Tunisian government ought to tighten the screws, following the attack on the American Embassy.
“Every time that parties or groups flagrantly overstep our freedom, we have to be firm and insist on order.”
"These people pose a threat not only to Ennahda but to the country's civil liberties and security. This is why we all must stand up to these groups, but according to law-abiding means," he added.
Ghannouchi has even compared the head of the Salafist jihadist movement to Osama Bin Laden, former al-Qaeda leader.
"Bin Laden remained free for several years. The international secret services spent a long time chasing him before finally being able to stop him. Therefore, it is not surprising if someone disappears (referring to Abu Iyad). However, the police will continue to pursue him until he is arrested," Ghannouchi said.
His statements against the Salafist jihadist were very clear, reflecting a firm will to constantly confront them.
However, these statements served to reassure the outside world, which does not want jihadists to establish themselves in Tunisia.
Less than 24 hours after his statements to AFP, Rachid Ghannouchi wanted to "slightly modify" his accusations against Salafist jihadists, as he said "they pose a threat to Tunisia."
Instead of sending “clarifications” to AFP, he said on national television that “his statements were distorted and reported imprecisely,” stressing that “those who attacked the US Embassy in Tunis do not belong to the Salafist movement. They are criminals and terrorists.”
Contrary to the explanation he expressed before international media, Ghannouchi denied “any desire to fight a religious group,” before the national press, emphasizing that “Salafist jihadists constitute an integral part of Tunisian society.”
In another interview with Canal+, Ghannouchi has strongly condemned, in the name of Islam, the attacks against the US Embassy and the American School. He clearly stated that he would take the necessary actions against rioters.
However, in a highly publicized, Ghannouchi, speaking to a Salafi convention, warned that the Tunisian administration is still in the hands of the secularists and that “the army and the police are not safe” provided those on the fence with proof of the Ennahdha president’s allegiances.
The event put the group’s leadership on the defensive as the opposition and independent media used the video as concrete evidence of “the hidden agenda of the so-called moderate mainstream Islamists.”
“The double talk of Ghannouchi can be explained based on electioneering purposes. Ennahda includes a quasi-Salafist radical wing, which is part of the NCA and and party’s leadership, represented by Sadok Habib Ellouze and Sadok Chourou,” said Naji Jalloul, an expert on Islamist movements said.
“Ghannouchi cannot ignore these two figures in his electoral strategy, especially given that the results of the Troika government are not terribly impressive on the socio-economic level. The leader of Ennahda is, therefore, caught between a desire to sell his moderate Islam to the West and the requirements of his radical group. This explains the double talk strategy.”