2nd hunger striker dies in Tunisia

2012-11-17 20:41
Demonstrators throw stones during a protest against an anti-Islam film outside the US Embassy in Tunis. (File, AP)

Demonstrators throw stones during a protest against an anti-Islam film outside the US Embassy in Tunis. (File, AP)

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Tunis - A key figure in Tunisia's Salafist movement, Mohammed Bakhti, died on Saturday after going on hunger strike over his arrest for an attack on the US embassy, the second such death this week, his lawyer said.

"He died in hospital at around 02:00 (01:00 GMT)," said Abdelbasset Ben Mbarek, noting his death followed that of another jailed member of the hardline Islamist movement, Bechir Gholli, who died on Thursday also after refusing food for nearly two months.

The lawyer had warned for several days that Bakhti, who was suffering from a brain haemorrhage, was in critical condition.

The moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which heads Tunisia's ruling coalition, called for a "rapid and transparent probe" to determine "the circumstances of the arrests and detentions as well as the causes of death and the hunger strikes".

Detention conditions

Bakhti and Gholli started their hunger strike in late September, days after their arrest in connection with a September 14 attack on the US embassy by a crowd of Islamists during which four of the assailants were killed in clashes with security forces.

They insisted they were innocent and protested over the conditions of detention, while the Salafist movement charged it was being victimised by the authorities.

Bakhti was considered a senior figure in the jihadist movement and close to Abu Iyad, the alleged organiser of the embassy attack who is on the run.

Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri of Ennahda said on Friday that Bakhti had been released on November 11. "His health deteriorated after his release," he said.

But Ben Mbarek said that Bakhti had been in a coma and was dying. The decision to free him was taken because the authorities knew "he was about to die", the lawyer said.

100+ detained

Bakhti was jailed for 12 years in 2007 for bloody clashes between the army and Islamists in Soliman, near Tunis, under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime but released under an amnesty declared after the 2011 revolution.

In the attack on the US mission, hundreds of protesters, angry over an anti-Islam film made in the United States, stormed the sprawling embassy compound in a suburb of Tunis.

More than 100 people were detained following the attack.

Tunisia's hardline Islamists have carried out numerous acts of violence since last year's revolution that ousted Ben Ali.

Read more on:    tunisia  |  prophet protests  |  religion  |  north africa
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