Tunisia’s anti-terrorism police have detained Ali Laarayedh, a former prime minister and senior official in the Ennahdha party, a move the opposition party have called a “political attack” by the country’s president.
Laarayedh, who was prime minister from 2013 to 2014, was interrogated for 14 hours on Monday on suspicion of “sending jihadists to Syria”, according to his lawyers, who announced the detention on Tuesday.
Ennahdha’s leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, who was also supposed to have been questioned on Monday, will be interrogated on Tuesday.
Security and official sources estimated that about 6,000 Tunisians travelled to Syria and Iraq in the last decade to join armed groups, including ISIL (ISIS). Many were killed there while others escaped and returned to Tunisia.
“I was against this phenomenon and took measures to limit it,” Laarayedh said on Monday.
It is expected that he will appear before a judge on Wednesday, lawyer Mokhtar Jamai said.
“We are shocked…the file is completely empty and without any evidence”, Samir Dilou, another lawyer said, before describing the case as a “farce”.
In a statement, Ennahdha condemned the conditions of the investigation carried out by the Anti-Terrorism Squad, describing it as “a form of torture, abuse, a flagrant violation of human rights and an undermining of dignity in fabricated cases and malicious accusations”.
Ghannouchi anti-terror hearing delayed
The police postponed the hearing for Tunisia’s opposition leader and speaker of the dissolved parliament Rached Ghannouchi to midday on Tuesday, after he was made to wait for more than 10 hours.
Ghannouchi also faces investigation over accusations relating to “terrorism”, which his party denies.
The 81-year-old has accused President Kais Saied of an anti-democratic coup since he seized considerable powers last summer, shutting down the parliament and moving to rule by decree, powers he has largely formalised with a new constitution.
Speaking late on Saturday, Ghannouchi said the summons was “a new attempt to target opponents and a new step towards exclusion”.
Ennahdha spokesman Imad Khamiri told Al Jazeera that summoning Ghannouchi and other leaders aimed to distract public opinion from the rise in the cost of living and the country’s economic woes.
There have been growing international fears that Saied is reversing a decade of democratic progress in Tunisia following the North African country’s revolution against longtime strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
Opponents of Ennahdha have accused the party of being lenient towards armed fighters, something the party has long denied.