Tunisia arrests Salafist suspects over Sufi shrine attack

Tunis, Tunisia — Tunisian authorities arrested five Salafist suspects on Monday in connection with an arson attack against one of the country's main Sufi shrines, the interior ministry said.

A statement said "security forces succeeded in tracking down the perpetrators of the October 16 attack against the Saida Manoubia zawiya (shrine)."

"Five suspects identified as extremists were placed in detention after having admitted their responsibility in the attack, while a search continues for three of their accomplices," the statement added.

The Saida Manoubia shrine located in the western La Manouba suburb of Tunis is one of the country's main mausoleums of the Sufi sect and holds the remains of a venerated saint.

It was torched and looted in an attack on October 16, amid a spate of attacks on Sufi shrines by increasingly assertive Salafists.

At the time an employee told AFP it was attacked by five armed and hooded men who shinned down ropes from the mausoleum's roof.

The attack was the latest in a series of desecrations of Sufi shrines by radical Islamists.

Since the early centuries of Islam, the mystical Sufi orders have always aroused suspicion among orthodox Muslims.

Members of Tunisia's militant Salafist movement, thought to number between 3,000 and 10,000, have been implicated in numerous acts of violence since last year's revolution.

On September 14, hundreds of radical Islamists angered by a US-made film mocking their religion attacked the US embassy in Tunis and a neighbouring American school in a day of violence that left four people dead and dozens wounded.

Two Islamists arrested in connection with the embassy attack and who were on hunger strike died last month.