Hundreds of Salafists demonstrated in Tunis on Tuesday to demand the release of those detained in sweeping arrests in recent months, especially after a September attack on the US embassy.
“We are not extremists, we are Muslims,” shouted the demonstrators, gathered outside the justice ministry amid heavy security.
The Salafists, who follow an ultra-orthodox form of Sunni Islam, claim they are victims of repression. They say around 900 fellow hardliners have been detained since an uprising ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, followed by an amnesty for political prisoners, notably Islamists.
The justice ministry denies that figure, saying 150-200 people have been arrested in connection with violence blamed on the Islamists, most of them following the US embassy attack, in which four of the assailants were killed.
“We are the most committed to reform; we protect the security and interests of our country. As proof of this, we have come here today to draw the world’s attention to the injustice that we have suffered,” Khamis al-Majeri, one of the group’s leaders, told AFP.
Last week, Salafists attacked two national guard posts in the Tunis suburb of Manouba, with two of the assailants killed and a Salafist imam later declaring war on Ennahda, Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party.
Ennahda has vowed to crack down on the radical Salafists after being sharply criticised for failing to rein them in following a wave of violence that culminated in the embassy attack.