Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh announced that the conservative religious organization Ansar al-Sharia has officially been categorized as a “terrorist organization” by the Tunisian government.
Laarayedh’s statement came during a press conference held Tuesday afternoon in which he also addressed the country’s month-long political crisis and opposition politicians’ demands to dissolve the government.
The Tunisian government has been at odds with Ansar al-Sharia throughout the year.
After the assassination of National Constituent Assembly (NCA) member Mohamed Brahmi on July 25, the government implicated Ansar al-Sharia members in his murder and the February killing of opposition politician Chokri Belaid.
“Based on our reports and evidence, we now categorize Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organization,” the prime minister announced at Tuesday’s conference. The minister of interior will hold a press conference Wednesday to present evidence supporting these claims, said Laarayedh.
He emphasized that the group was not being targeted for its beliefs.
The government does not criminalize ideology, Laarayedh asserted, but does “judge and criminalize deeds and acts.”
“There is no truce with terrorism, no truce with whoever uses arms against the law and society,” he continued.
Ansar al-Sharia’s activities were officially banned in May after the organization refused to apply for a permit to hold its annual conference in Kairouan.
Despite the ban, the group has continued to operate charity and preaching campaigns throughout Tunisia. It has denied all charges of involvement in the assassinations.
“We refuse all attempts to use our name in the case of the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi, whether from official authorities or the media,” Ansar al-Sharia said in a statement last month on its Facebook page. “We have no relationship with the political assassination, which is an obvious attempt to turn the country into chaos that no one benefits from except for the remnants of the former regime.”
The organization’s founder, known as Abu Iyadh, is suspected of playing a role in the September 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tunisia. A warrant is out for his arrest and he is currently on the run from authorities.
Laarayedh also addressed the current political crisis in Tunisia, both reiterating his opposition to dissolving the government and calling on the NCA to resume its work. The assembly’s activities have been frozen since the withdrawal of a number of opposition members shortly after Brahmi’s assassination.
Opposition parties have called for the dissolution of the government and for NCA to be replaced by a non-partisan technocratic government tasked with finalizing the new constitution and organizing elections.
“We don’t think the current situation, challenges, and political tensions will be solved by dissolving the government,” Laarayedh said Tuesday.
“The NCA should get back to work with a clear roadmap to finish preparation for elections by October 23,” he continued.
Laarayedh resisted calls that the ruling Ennahdha party agree on dissolution of the government prior to engaging in political dialogue. Laarayedh asserted that it only would make sense for the government to dissolve after the constitution is finalized and the date of the next elections is set.
The prime minister expressed an additional note of optimism during the conference, suggesting Tunisia’s potential matched that of affluent northern European states.
“There is nothing stopping us from becoming like Switzerland or Scandinavian countries,” he said, during a question and answer session.