By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) - A group claiming affiliation with activist hacker collective Anonymous says it has hacked 2,725 emails belonging to Tunisia's ruling Ennahda party, including those of the prime minister, in the latest challenge to the Islamist-led government.
In a video posted on a Facebook page belonging to Anonymous TN, a hacker wearing the trademark activist "Guy Fawkes" mask, said the emails were released in protest against Ennahda's alleged failure to protect the unemployed and artists who were attacked by Salafi Islamists during a recent protest.
The activist said the emails include phone numbers, bank transactions and invoices paid during Tunisia's election campaign in October, in which Ennahda won more than 40 percent of parliament seats, going on to lead the government.
One of the emails was from Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, a senior Ennahda official, to the Turkish embassy, attaching Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem's CV.
"To the Tunisian government, we have kept a large part of your data secret. If you do not wish to see these published on the internet we ask you to work to the best of your ability to avoid internet censorship and to respect human rights and the freedom of expression in Tunisia," the activist said.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the emails or when they were accessed. The video appeared to have been posted on Facebook on Saturday.
Government officials declined detailed comment on the security breach but said many of the emails appeared to be old.
"We are still trying to confirm if Jebali's hacked account was from before he became prime minister or after," Jebali's spokesman, Rida Kezdaghli, told Reuters.
Ennahda, a moderate Islamist group, has faced pressure in recent months from secular opponents who accuse it of turning a blind eye to conservative Salafi Islamists they fear are trying impose their austere interpretation of Islam on the country.
Salafis have held mass protests in recent weeks demanding the implementation of sharia, or Islamic law. At their last protest last month, Salafis attacked the national theatre in Tunis, tearing down posters and roughing up some actors.
Ennahda has also faced criticism from opponents who say it has not done enough to revive the economy.
Anonymous attacked an unofficial Ennahda website last month, as well as Facebook pages linked to the group and the site of Tunisia's justice ministry.
In the midst of Tunisia's revolution in January 2011, the "hacktivist" network launched Operation Tunisia, attacking government websites to hit back against an internet crackdown by veteran president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Ben Ali fled the country the same month as protests engulfed the country.
Anonymous and fellow hacking collective LulzSec have carried out high-profile hacking actions against institutions and companies, including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
(Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Myra MacDonald)