x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Tunisia identifies Belaid's assassin, arrests four 'accomplices'

Authorities say the killer is on the run after they arrest his suspected accomplices who are members of a 'radical religious group'.

TUNIS // The suspected murderer of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid has been identified and is on run but four of his accomplices have been arrested, the interior minister said today.

"The killer has been identified and is being chased," Ali Larayedh told a news conference.

"Four other suspects have been arrested. They belong to a radical religious" group, said Mr Larayedh, who is also prime-minister designate tasked with forming a new government.

Belaid's daylight killing on February 6 sparked deadly street protests and strikes and exposed the widening fissures between the ruling Islamists and liberals.

It also threw Tunisia into its worst political crisis since the revolution two years ago that ousted former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Mr Larayedh said the four people arrested had "monitored [Belaid] for some time".

One of the suspects, he added, "confessed to having accompanied the killer on the day of the crime".

Police sources had said that those behind the killing were ultraconservative Salafis.

Salafis have been blamed for several violent actions in Tunisia over the past months, including an attack on the US embassy last September that left four attackers dead.

Mr Larayedh declined to comment on who may have ordered the killing, even as Belaid's widow urged authorities to get to flush out those responsible.

"It is good to know who carried it out, but for me it is very important to know who ordered it ... because this was a very well-organised crime," Basma Khalfaoui told France's Europe 1 radio during a visit to Paris today.

"We are asking for a trial, for further investigation, for everything to be known," she said.

Belaid's brother, Abdelmajid, accuses the ruling Islamist Ennahda party of being behind the murder.

"It's Ennahda which gave the green light to kill my brother," he said, but Ms Khalfaoui was more cautious, saying only that "Ennahda's political leadership is involved".