Tunisian MPs sue over Islamist party's 'secret apparatus'

Lawsuit brought by parliamentarians seeks to determine the extent of the interior ministry's involvement in what is referred to as a "secret apparatus" controlled by the Islamist Ennahda party.

TUNIS - A group of Tunisian lawmakers on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against politicians and security officials over an alleged secret organization related to the Islamist Ennahda party, which has been accused of infiltrating state organs and carrying out political assassinations.

The general secretary of the People's Front, MP Zuhair al-Maghzawi, said that 43 deputies from several parties and blocs in parliament filed a lawsuit in a Tunis court.

Al-Maghzawi explained that the subjects of the lawsuit are political and security figures in the Ministry of the Interior.

The suit seeks to determine the extent of the ministry's involvement in what is referred to as a "secret apparatus" controlled by Ennahda for the purpose of espionage and infiltrating state organs.

The lawyers of politicians Shukri Belaid and Mohamed Brahimi, who were assassinated in 2013, allege that this covert operation, running parallel to the party's structures, is linked to those killings.

"The case is in support of the demand of the defense establishment to uncover the truth about the secret apparatus and political assassinations," al-Maghzawi said.

Previous accusations, brought forward by an independent investigative commission linked to the secular left-wing Popular Front coalition, had led to the seizure of sensitive documents from the Ministry of Interior dating back to the Ennahda Party's time in power between 2011 and 2013.

Those documents, while not directly implicating Ennahda, did contain information indicating the recruitment of agents within the Tunisian security services in order to spy on the military, state officials, foreign diplomats and embassies.

Ennahda has repeatedly denied any links to the secret apparatus or involvement in political assassinations, claiming a strategy of misinformation by its political opponents in order to weaken the party's chances ahead of elections in 2019.

But the investigative body revealed last Saturday the existence of documents proving that Mustafa Khedher, believed to be the head of the parallel security service, had received 300 thousand dinars (100 thousand dollars) from Ennahda.

The commission had previously disclosed evidence that Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda, and Noureddine Bhiri, the head of the Islamist group’s parliamentary bloc, had direct and regular contact with Khedher.

Khedher, who was a personal aide to the interior minister in 2013, was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2015 for fabricating and stealing official documents and records.

According to the commission, a trove of information concerning the murders of Belaid and Brahimi were contained in those documents Khedher had withheld.

Those same documents had been held at the interior ministry and were not submitted to the judicial bodies charged with investigating the murders, according to the commission.

The commission said it believes Khedher, who allegedly employed a roster of 400 intelligence agents, was behind the assassinations and that he had direct links to suspects in the murders of the two politicians in 2013.

Ennahda, which has been described by Tunisia's president as "controlling the political scene in Tunisia", will look to temper the effects of the ongoing investigations into its conduct after Tunisia's January 2011 revolution ahead of a key electoral season.

Tunisians have long speculated over the existence of Ennahda's parallel organisation, described by some as a separate intelligence agency at the service of the international Muslim Brotherhood Organisation.

Others had described it as Ennahda’s 'security arm' endowed with military and intelligence capabilities, while others reduce it to a tool for recruiting jihadists in Tunisia and sending them to various battlefields, including Syria, Iraq and Libya.