Tunisia places hundreds of 'terrorist' suspects under house arrest

Tunisia places hundreds of 'terrorist' suspects under house arrest
In a controversial move, Tunisian authorities have placed 138 'radical extremists' deemed to be a threat to security under house arrest, in the wake of November's suicide attack.
2 min read
06 December, 2015
A bomb attack on a police bus in Tunis killed 12 on November 24 [Anadolu]
In the aftemath of the suicide attack on a police bus that killed 12 officers, the Tunisian Ministry of Interior put 92 radical Islamists who had returned from Syria, Iraq and Libya under house arrest.

The Tunisian authorities have since extended the measure to 46 others, in a move that has sparked a lot of debate in the country.

Some believe the measure is arbitrary and will be ineffective in curbing future terror attacks.

The suspects include people classed as "dangerous".

Up to 44 of the individuals under house arrest are said to belong to Ansar al-Sharia, an outlawed group designated as a terrorist organisation.

"Legally speaking, the decision to put these people under house arrest is legitimate and within the powers of the Interior Ministry in such circumstances," said Badra Gaaloul, head of a think tank focusing on security issues.

"However", she told al-Araby al-Jadeed, "If the returnees from conflict zones are extremely dangerous individuals, as the ministry suggested, is putting them under arrest the right course of action?"

Gaaloul stressed that placing terror suspects under house arrest, guarded by a security detail, is expensive and places police officers at risk.

"It would be better to put them on trial and detain them in a desert prison, for example, until the courts issue a verdict," she added.

Gaaloul said the measure is rushed and could encourage terrorists, pointing out that all experiences based on reconciliation and rehabilitation of extremist militants, for example in Algeria and Saudi Arabia, have failed.

Abderraouf Ayadi, founder of the Wafa Movement, echoed Gaaloul, saying the measure is wrongful.

Ayadi said the suspects must be tried in accodance to terror laws.

But there was some support for the government measure.

Mira Jribi, secretary general of the centrist Republican Party, said any action by the government to deal with terrorism must be supported.

However, Jribi called for a comprehensive approach that includes a religious and cultural measures as well as security and legal ones, which she said requires a national counter-terrorism conference.

House arrest is an official form of detention in Tunisia.

It is a complementary measure sanctioned by the Penal Code during states of emergency, authorising the interior minister to place under house arrest any person he deems to be a threat to the public security without going through the courts.

Tunisia is one of the top exporter of militants into conflict zones like Syria and Iraq.

In April, the Ministry of Interior said out of 2,800 to 3,000 Tunisians fighting in Iraq and Syria, about 500 have returned.