TUNIS (Reuters) – More than 1,000 Tunisian security forces surrounded a mosque in the capital on Monday where a Salafist leader wanted by police over clashes at the U.S. Embassy last week was meeting hundreds of followers, a Reuters witness said.
Riot police, military and elite anti-terrorism forces cordoned off the al-Fatah mosque where Saif-Allah Benahssine, leader of the Tunisian branch of Ansar al-Sharia, told followers he was not involved in violent protests at the U.S. mission.
A security source told Reuters that Benahssine, also known as Abu Iyadh, was wanted over the protests. Two people died and 29 were wounded when police opened fire as protesters ransacked the U.S. mission over a film mocking the Prophet Mohammad.
Ansar al-Sharia has endorsed a Facebook call to protest against the short film, made with private funds in the United States and trailed online, which portrayed the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and a womaniser.
The moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which leads Tunisia’s governing coalition, advised against joining the protests.
Moncef Marzouki, the country’s secular president, condemned Friday’s attack as unacceptable and said it could hurt relations with Washington. Tunisia’s economy is reliant on Western aid after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of its longtime ruler last year.
Libyan officials suspect the Libyan branch of Ansar al-Sharia was behind an attack in which the U.S. envoy to Libya and three other Americans died in anti-film protests last week.