Former Tunisian prime minister awaits court verdict over terrorism allegation

Inquiry launched in 2017 looked into flow of fighters to Syria, which increased after 2011 uprising against Bashar Al Assad

Rached Ghannouchi, head of Tunisia's Ennahda party, arrives by car for questioning in Tunis. His hearing was adjourned until Wednesday. EPA
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Prosecutors in Tunis have kept former prime minister and Ennahdha party vice president Ali Laarayedh in custody after an investigation into suspicions he facilitated sending citizens to Syria to fight alongside terrorists, lawyers said on Tuesday.

Mr Laarayedh, who was also interior minister, will on Wednesday be summoned for questioning by the counter-terrorism judicial pole — an organisation that brings together different branches of the justice system to combat terrorism — examining a case commonly known as “the facilitation of travel networks to Syria”.

Ennahda denies accusations of terrorism, calling it a political attack on a foe of President Kais Saied.

Ennahdha president Rached Ghannouchi, who had been summoned for questioning alongside Mr Laarayedh, remains free after his hearing in front of the investigative judge was adjourned for today, Tuesday afternoon, when a final decision will be made, said lawyer and Ennahdha member Samir Dilou.

In 2017, a parliamentary committee was formed to investigate terrorist networks that were involved in recruiting and sending thousands of young Tunisians to fight in Syria after the uprising in 2011 descended into a decade-long civil war.

Some of those who travelled to fight joined terrorist organisations such as ISIS, and the issue of returning former fighters became a divisive security issue within Tunisia.

At the time, the committee said it had evidence incriminating the Ennahdha party leadership, including Mr Laarayedh, who was accused by some of adopting a relaxed view of the risk Tunisians travelling to Turkey could pose.

Turkey was then the main access point for foreign fighters going to Syria.

The case took centre stage once again when Fatma Mseddi, the former Nidaa Tounes MP, filed an official complaint to the military judiciary.

Mr Dilou told local press outside the Bouchoucha police headquarters that he regretted the decision to keep Mr Laarayedh in custody and that “there is no actual case” but only “some nonsense”.

A number of high-profile figures have already been arrested in the case, most notably Tunisian businessman and former Syphax Airlines owner Mohamed Frikha and former Constituent Assembly member, imam and Ennahdha leader Habib Ellouze, a move that was condemned by the party and labelled as part of a smear campaign against its members.

Updated: September 20, 2022, 1:12 PM