Tunisia: One dead in fire at political party Ennahda's headquarters

People, including a former prime minister, jumped from windows to escape the flames caused by a desperate member self-immolating

Tunisian firefighters put out a blaze at the Islamist party Ennahda's headquarters in Tunis on December 9. AFP

A former political prisoner and Ennahda activist set himself on fire at the Tunisian party's headquarters, with a resultant blaze injuring party members including a former prime minister.

Sami Essifi, 51, who is reportedly married and has children, died after setting himself alight on the ground floor of the Islamist party's headquarters.

The fire spread to the fifth floor where members of the party, including senior officials, suffered burns and smoke inhalation.

Senior member Ali Larayedh, the former prime minister, jumped from a second-storey window and sustained injuries to his legs and spine before the ambulance and fire brigade arrived.

The fire service brought the fire under control by early afternoon and ambulance workers removed Essifi's charred body.

"The initial findings of the investigation indicate that the victim had set himself on fire upon arrival at the second floor of the building," the Public Prosecutors's Office said.

"The Directorate of Criminal Affairs is conducting an investigation into the circumstances around Mr Essifi’s death and the fire in the party’s headquarters."

According to an Ennadha spokesperson, Abdelkarim Harouni, the president of the party's Shura Council, remained in intensive care on Friday with second and third degree burns – worse than previously thought.

Mr Larayedh's son, Hichem, wrote on his official Facebook page that his father underwent successful operations for injuries to his spine and legs and that he was resting in hospital.

President Kais Saied issued statement wishing the injured a quick recovery and said investigations would reveal whether the fire was caused by a criminal act.

Essifi, a party activist, had previously been held as a political prisoner under the orders of former President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali for 15 years and was later released in 2006, but endured a life of extreme poverty.

Essifi was one of the many victims of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s brutal regime, which was overthrown in the 2011 uprising. Their cases had been assessed by the Truth and Dignity Commission.

The commission was set up as part of the transitional justice process to investigate historic cases of torture and assassination by the state.

But like many other victims who had their cases officially recognised, Essifi was not awarded any compensation.

“Mr Essifi came to petition help from the party because the offices of the head of government, the government and Parliament are all closed. He had nowhere else to to turn,” senior Ennahda official Mondher Louinissi told The National.

"Sadly, in a moment of total despair and loss of hope, he set himself on fire.

“I’ve been at the office all afternoon. Everyone is very sad and angry. They are shocked that a member of Ennahda would set himself on fire.

“The mood in Tunisia is very sombre at the moment. We believe this action was a message to the president [Kais Saied].”

Updated: December 10th 2021, 12:12 PM