Overwhelming chaos at Tunis airport ahead of Salafist sheikh arrival
TUNIS - Extra security forces were deployed Thursday at Tunis airport after radical Islamist websites called for a big turnout to welcome a Salafist sheikh evicted from Egypt for falsifying travel papers for jihadists.
Police manned checkpoints around the airport to keep Salafists away from the building, a photographer reported, while armed police with dogs patrolled the arrivals hall.
No incidents were reported by late morning, except the arrest of a bearded man.
Imed ben Salah, also known as Abou Abdallah Ettounsi, was arrested on March 21 and ordered out of Egypt, according to local press reports, for organising the falsification of documents to help jihadists travel to combat zones.
His flight to Tunis was due to arrive early on Thursday afternoon.
Since its January 2011 revolution, Tunisia has witnessed a proliferation of jihadist groups, which have been blamed for a wave of deadly attacks, notably on the US embassy in Tunis last September that left four of the assailants dead.
Tunisia's government has warned of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda's North African franchise infiltrating the country's borders and trafficking weapons, notably to northern Mali.
The judiciary opened an investigation in mid-March into a network recruiting and sending Tunisians to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces alongside Islamist insurgents.
In the last two years, Tunisian jihadist groups have directed the majority of their domestic efforts toward charity and social programs, in a likely effort to gain the support of conservative and impoverished communities.
These efforts have included the establishment of community policing patrols across Tunisia. Patrolmen have often operated in cells of two and four, openly identifying themselves with bright orange vests.
These patrols have also been accused of enforcing their own strict version of Islamic law, otherwise known as "morality policing."
Such policing efforts include both rhetoric and attacks against perceived heretical establishments and individuals.
Furthermore, the head of the local branch of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice recently called for a Tunisian topless feminist protester to be stoned in accordance with Sharia law.
Additional attacks against Sufi and religious minority shrines, secularist/liberal political leaders, media offices, and security forces headquarters have been largely attributed to Salafists operating in the capital, as well as in outlying areas.