A Tunisian Salafist leader wanted for deadly violence said the government is in thrall to Western powers, according to an interview banned by the authorities but posted Tuesday on the Internet.
Abu Iyadh, who heads the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, also said however he was ready for dialogue with the country’s ruling Islamist party Ennahda.
“We make a difference between the government and the Ennahda movement. The government does not represent Islam, but we work with Ennahda as an Islamic movement independent of the government,” he said in the interview that was to be broadcast on Mosaique FM radio before it was barred by a Tunisian judge.
“Our enemies want a conflict between Islam and Islam. Ennahda wants to meet us, but their hands are tied by the government, because it obeys the orders of the West,” added the fugitive imam.
Ennahda heads Tunisia’s coalition government in partnership with two left-leaning secular parties, including the Congress for the Republic of President Moncef Marzouki.
The judge on Monday barred the private radio station from broadcasting the interview, saying it might contain “coded message” capable of “disturbing public order”.
Abu Iyadh, who is accused of orchestrating a deadly attack on the US embassy in Tunis last September in which four people died — charges he denies — insisted in the interview that his movement was not seeking to wage holy war in Tunisia.
“There is no reason to carry out jihad in Tunisia, that’s why dozens of young Tunisians leave for Syria or elsewhere… We are involved with social work, charity and preaching,” he said, adding: “We do not have a stash of weapons.”
The Salafist leader, whose real name is Seif Allah Ibn Hussein, said he opposed the departure of Tunisian militants for the battle zones of Syria and Mali, as it “emptied Tunisia of its young” Salafists.
Dozens of Tunisian jihadists are reported to have been killed in Syria in the past 12 months.
Referring to his flight from the authorities, he said they were pursuing him under pressure from Western powers who feared the growing popularity of Ansar al-Sharia since the revolution two years ago “because of its charitable work”.
Abu Iyadh, a former pro-Taliban combatant who was jailed under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben, has refrained from openly supporting the violence that has rocked Tunisia since the January 2011 uprising, and to which he has been linked by the authorities.