The Anti-Terrorist Brigade arrests the Ennahda leadership in a case investigating the transfer of Islamist militants to Syria and Iraq

Judicial blow to Islamism in Tunisia

AFP/FETHI BELAID - The leader of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahdha party, Rached Ghannouchi

The former prime minister of Tunisia, Ali Larayedh, has been arrested by the Anti-Terrorist Brigade (BAT) as part of a judicial investigation into whether he was involved in sending Islamist militants to Syria and Iraq after the overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and during his institutional activities, first as Minister of the Interior and then as head of government under the presidency of Moncef Marzouki.

The vice-president of the Islamist group Ennahda was questioned by the National Unit for the Investigation of Terrorist Crimes and brought before a judge. He is due to appear before the judge on Wednesday, his lawyer confirmed to Reuters. Until then, the second member of the triumvirate that founded the Renaissance Party from the ashes of the Islamic Tendency Movement (ITM) will remain in police custody.


Larayedh, widely regarded as the ideologue and chief strategist of the Islamist formation, became the target of criticism from the opposition and the secular majority of the civilian population during his tenure at the Interior Ministry. These voices denounced his laxity towards Ennahda 's more radical environment and, above all, towards the activities of other Salafist movements, which have been involved in violent attacks against several political leaders.

According to official figures, around 6,000 Tunisians have moved to Syria and Iraq in the last decade to join the ranks of Daesh and other jihadist groups in the region. According to statements by several high-ranking state security officials, Ennahda is said to have actively intervened from the government to facilitate the transfer of Islamist militants through Carthage airport, although the accusations have never been proven by the judiciary.


In 2016, the Tunisian Parliament created a commission to investigate these alleged transfers. The case was brought to court following a complaint filed by former MP Fatma Mseddi, who recently assured the Tunisian state news agency TAP that "state figures, political parties and members of the security forces" close to Islamist circles "are involved in this case".

Ali Larayedh was not the only one arrested in the investigation. In recent days, a list of figures linked to Tunisian Islamism has been brought before the police. Among them are members of Ennahda Fathi Baladi and Abdulkareem al-Obeidi and the former Minister of Religious Affairs during the government of another Islamist, Hamadi Jebari, Nourredine Khadmi.

Ghannouchi on the list

Veteran Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi is another of those implicated in the investigations into the transfer of Islamist militants to what the authorities refer to as 'hot zones'. The former speaker of parliament had just been questioned in July as part of another investigation into corruption and money laundering, allegedly carried out through the front company of Namaa Tunisia, a non-profit association affiliated to Ennahda that received donations from abroad.

Like Larayedh, Ghannouchi was arrested earlier this week. The founder of the Islamist group was scheduled to appear before a judge on Tuesday on terrorism charges against him, but the hearing was postponed after a 14-hour wait.


Ennahda flatly rejects the accusations and attributes them to a campaign of political persecution orchestrated by President Kais Saied, who decided in July 2021 to stage a coup with the dismissal of the government and the dissolution of parliament, opening a period of constitutional crisis that has led to the approval of a new Magna Carta that concentrates all powers in the hands of the president.

Senior Islamist officials, now in opposition, had denounced Saied's attempts to "use the judiciary to tarnish Ennahda 's image" and implicate its leaders in "fabricated affairs".