U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned yesterday that the American government could reconsider aid to Tunisia if American officials are not given access to Ali al-Harzi, who is a Tunisian suspected of participating in the September 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
In a letter to Tarek Amri, the Tunisian charge d’affaires in Washington D.C., Graham urged Amri to engage with the Tunisian government and “ensure cooperation between our intelligence services, law enforcement officials, as well as their Libyan counterparts, so that we may question this individual about the horrific attacks that cost us the lives of four brave Americans.”
Graham warned that if Tunisian authorities fail to act, the partnership between the two countries could be in “serious jeopardy.”
Turkish officials first detained al-Harzi in Turkey on October 5 and then transferred him to Tunisian authorities on October 11. He remains in Mornaguia Prison under a preventative detention order.
Al-Harzi is “strongly suspected” of participating in the attack, which killed U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel, Interior Minister Ali Larayedh said in a television interview yesterday, according to the Associated Press.
Hafedh Ghaldhoun, al-Harzi’s lawyer, said his client is being used as a pawn in a game of political chess. Ghaldhoun reasserted his earlier statements that “no evidence exists” to support the accusations.
“The U.S. is trying to intervene in the Tunisian judiciary system,” he said. “It’s a matter of sovereignty, and the U.S. has no jurisdiction or reason to investigate al-Harzi.”
Conflicting accounts surround al-Harzi’s detention. The Daily Beast reported that authorities detained the Tunisian because he put up social media posts that implicated him in the attack. Al-Harzi’s lawyers maintain he is being unfairly held for a “personal phone call” he placed to his brother, who escaped in September from a Tikrit prison.
Adel Riahi, the press attaché for the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, said an investigation is ongoing and declined to comment further.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Farah Samti contributed reporting