Details have emerged about the life of Kamel Gadhgadhi, who was killed last week and was considered a key suspect in the assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid. Televised interviews last weekend gave a human element to an alleged killer, but have been widely criticized, with some questioning whether journalists should report on the other side of tragedy.
A tense, day-long standoff ultimately culminated in the deaths of seven suspects and one national guard officer in Raoued, a suburb north of Tunis. Gadhgadhi, named by the Ministry of Interior as a suspect in the Belaid shooting, was one of the alleged gunmen killed.
Two Tunisian television shows aired on the Ettounsiya channel provided a look into Gadhgadhi’s life, one interviewing his father and the other a childhood friend. One of these shows was slammed for allegedly white-washing terrorism. These programs present Ghadhgadhi not as the villain whose death the Ministry of Interior called a “gift,” but a polite, American-educated young man and even, according to one conservative preacher, a martyr.
“No to Glorifying Terrorism!” proclaimed a headline in the secularist Al Maghreb newspaper.
Gadhgadhi was often called Chokri instead of Kamal – the same name of his alleged victim, according to an unnamed individual identified on the Labes talk show as his childhood friend. Gadhgadhi was killed two days before the one-year anniversary of Belaid’s death in February 2013. The Ministry of Interior has also accused Gadhgadhi of participating in the killing of eight military officers in Chaambi Mountain last July.
In the Sunday episode, the friend’s face and name were withheld for his protection. At multiple times, he referred to his late friend as “Chokri.”
The two were raised in Oued Meliz, a poor town in Jendouba governorate. Gadhgadhi was born in 1979. After high school, Gadhgahi studied accounting and then traveled to United States in the early 2000s, first to go on a university trip but eventually staying for two years, according to the interview. After September 11, 2001, because of his illegal status in the United States, he returned to Tunisia.
Back in Tunisia, Gadhgadhi made several attempts to build a successful career, working for a while for a “maritime agency” and eventually spending three months in Malaysia, but he never managed to find a successful job, the man interviewed said.
In 2003, Gadhgadhi married an American in Tunisia, but the marriage shortly ended. Gadhgadhi could not return to the United States and lost contact with his wife.
According to the unnamed man, he kept a steady relationship with Gadhgadhi over the years. The last time they met was three days before Belaid’s assassination.
“You [addressing the interviewer and the audience] know the Kamel you saw on TV, you know the name Kamel, I know the Kamel who lived with me during childhood who wouldn’t not harm anyone,” the man said. “I cannot not say otherwise, that’s what I know.” He described Gadhgadhi as polite, intelligent, and calm.
Gadhgadhi’s father was interviewed on the phone Sunday by journalist Samir Elwafi on Liman Yajroo Fakat (For Those Who Dare).
“If my son did such things it means that he was brainwashed,” the elder Gadhgadhi said in the interview.
Taieb Gadhgadhi said he last saw his son in January 2012 and confirmed that he received his son’s body for burial. He recognized the younger Gadhgadhi’s face in news footage of the Raoued shootout. He seemed uncertain of some facts and emotional in the interview.
Gadhgadhi’s parents are divorced, his father said, and their son rarely visited.
Samir Elwafi, the journalist running the program, was condemned by many for Sunday ‘s program.
“At a time when Tunisia is fighting the most dangerous phenomenon since independence, the terrorism phenomenon, some TV channels are seeking, knowingly or ignorantly, to whiten this scourge and polish the image of its representatives in a clear solicitation of people’s emotions,” led an article in Al Chourouk newspaper.
The Journalists’ Union in a statement released on Monday denounced Elwafi’s “abuses” and considered his show “an extreme insult to the families of the martyrs and to the Tunisian people.”
“There is no neutrality with terrorism and terrorists, the enemies of Tunisia and the enemies of freedom and democracy,” the statement read. Samir Elwafi “sought to present terrorists in the image of victims, and to direct the episode into justifying terrorism,” it alleged
Elwafi responded in a Facebook post saying that he is responsible only for what he said as an interviewer, which he added was “devoid of any sympathy towards terrorists.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the programs were broadcast on Saturday, not Sunday. Further, an attack which killed eight Tunisian soldiers was stated to have occurred in August, it happen on July 29.