Tunisian exile denies bombings

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The Independent Online
RACHID AL-GHANNOUCHI, the exiled Tunisian Islamist leader at the centre of a storm in Britain about being granted political asylum, has denied allegations that he was behind bomb attacks six years ago that maimed several tourists.

Four bombs were set off at Monastir and other Mediterranean resorts on 2 August 1987. Some 13 tourists were injured, including five Britons. The Labour MP George Foulkes is to due to meet the Home Office minister Charles Wardle next week to discuss the matter; one of his constituents lost a foot in one attack.

Speaking to the Independent in north-west London, Sheikh Ghannouchi said that he had been in prison at the time of the bomb attacks. 'We had nothing to do with it,' he said. He had been detained on 9 March 1987 and held in the top-security Interior Ministry. He was only released during a general amnesty the following year, on 12 May 1988, after the ousting of President Habib Bourguiba and his replacement by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Several thousand people were released from prison with the arrival of the new president, including many, like Sheikh Ghannouchi, imprisoned on charges of plotting to overthrow the previous regime. However the bombers were not freed and one, Mehrez Boudegga, was executed.

At no point have judicial charges been laid against Sheikh Ghannouchi in connection with the bombings. The only claim of responsibility came in a statement attributed to the Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. Those arrested all denied any connection with Sheikh Ghannouchi's Islamic Tendency Movement, which is now known as the al-Nahda (Renaissance) movement.

Sheikh Ghannouchi left Tunisia in May 1989, after the legislative elections of the previous month. He spent a month in Sudan, then came to Britain. In 1992 he was again charged with plotting to overthrow the government. Several hundred al-Nahda supporters were tried in two separate trials in July and August 1992 after violent clashes between Islamist students and others and the security forces. Amnesty International described as 'unfair' the trials in which 265 supporters of al-Nahda were sentenced to prison terms from one year to life.

One of those given a life sentence in absentia was Sheikh Ghannouchi. He was granted political asylum in Britain in August, conditional on his not committing acts of violence or incitement to violence.