For the second time in six months Tunisia has lived through what was previously unthinkable – the cold-blooded murder of a politician. In February it was Chokri Belaid who fell to assassins’ bullets in the street, and yesterday it was another secular politician, Mohamed Brahmi, who was slaughtered in front of his family in Cite el-Ghazela, outside of Tunis.
The killing comes at a sensitive time for Tunisia, as the ruling Troika coalition struggles to govern the country and the nascent Tamarod movement (ostensibly modeled on the massive street protests in Egypt last month) is grasping for any spark that will ignite larger protests against the Islamist Ennahdha party, which leads the Troika. It no doubt helped their case that Brahmi’s family immediately lashed out against Ennahdha following his assassination. The government in turn responded with a press conference Friday in which Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said that (remarkably swift) ballistics tests showed that the same weapon was used to kill Belaid and Brahmi, and that both attacks were carried out by an “Al-Qaeda-linked” cell. He even named the alleged assassin, a known Franco-Tunisian jihadi named Aboubaker el-Hakim.
To be sure, the Ennahdha-led government seems to have arrived very quickly at the theory that this Salafi-jihadi cell was behind Brahmi’s killing. The fact alone that he and his weapon were identified so quickly, especially as many moved to pin the blame for Brahmi’s death in part on Ennahda, should prompt some suspicion. But if the government’s claims are accurate, it is worth taking a closer look at el-Hakim himself, as well as al-Qaeda and related movements in Tunisia.
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