2nd Tunisian detainee dies after hunger strike

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2012 6:56 AM

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A second suspect in the attack on Tunisia's U.S. embassy died Saturday after months on a hunger strike, his lawyer said.

Mohammed Bakhti, a prominent member of the ultraconservative Muslim Salafi movement, was admitted to intensive care days earlier following complications resulting from his two-monthlong hunger strike.

Fellow detainee, Bachir al-Gholi, died Thursday after a heart attack brought on by his own hunger strike.

The two men had proclaimed their innocence. Abdelbasset Ben Mbarek, their lawyer, accused authorities of responding too late to their grave condition.

Since the fall of Tunisia's hardline secular dictatorship in January 2011, there has been a resurgence of conservative Islamic movements in this North African nation. Salafis have attacked art galleries and cultural institutes for perceived insults to Islam, culminating in the Sept. 14 assault on the U.S. embassy over an amateur film made in the U.S. attacking the Prophet Muhammad.

Security forces killed four people in the attack, the area around the U.S. embassy was damaged and an American school was gutted.

Some 425 suspects were rounded up in the aftermath of the attack, with 225 remaining in custody, according to Justice Minister Nourreddine Bhiri.

The minister, speaking at a news conference Friday, said he regretted the death of al-Gholi and deplored the use of hunger strikes as a protest. He said the death would be investigated.

The Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights has called for an independent investigation.

Bakhti was one of the most prominent Salafis in Tunisia and was involved in protests at Manouba University near Tunis over allowing female students to wear face veils. He was also close to the leader of Ansar al-Shariah, the group that is believed to have been behind the U.S. embassy attack.