Tunisian extremists fire-bombed the home of a TV station chief on Friday, hours after militants protesting its broadcast of a film they say violated Islamic values clashed with police in the streets of Tunis.
About 100 men, some of whom threw Molotov cocktails, lay siege to the home of Nessma private television chief Nabil Karoui late on Friday, the station reported in its evening news bulletin.
Karoui’s family had only just escaped, the news presenter said as Nessma denounced the attack.
Sofiane Ben Hmida, one of Nessma’s reporters, said the station chief was not at home when the attack on his house took place at about 7pm, but his wife and children were.
About 20 of the protesters were able to get inside.
“The family managed to get out the back and are safe. The attackers wrecked the house and set it on fire,” he added.
A neighbor, who had alerted police, said the aggressors arrived in taxis, armed with knives and Molotov cocktails.
According to a Nessma source “only a housemaid was present inside. She was attacked and hospitalized.”
Karoui himself said by telephone that he was shocked and devastated by the attack.
“I fear for my family. I am scared they [the attackers] will come back,” he said.
Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Hichem Meddeb said about 100 people turned up outside the house, forced their way in, broke windows and tore out two gas pipes. Five people were arrested, he added.
Late on Friday, 50 police officers were deployed at Karoui’s house, along with Nessma security staff.
This was the most serious incident yet in an escalating series of protests against the station’s broadcast of Persepolis on Oct. 7.
The globally acclaimed animated film on Iran’s 1979 revolution offended many Muslims because it depicts an image of God as an old, bearded man. All depictions of God are forbidden by Islam.
Earlier on Friday, police fired tear gas at demonstrators as some of the protests against the station degenerated.
The main demonstration began peacefully at a central Tunis mosque after Friday prayers, with men and women chanting slogans against Nessma. Thousands of people, many of them Salafist Muslims, were present.
However, traders shut up shop as the group approached government offices and the rally grew tense as protesters approached the Kasbah area of Tunis where the main government buildings are located.
“Separate! Mixing of men and woman is prohibited,” shouted a Salafist as he divided the protesters.
Other protests took place elsewhere in the capital.
Those protesting were mainly Salafists, but they were joined by groups of youths with no obvious allegiance, who in some places began tearing up posts and throwing stones at police.
The officers replied with volleys of tear gas.
It was the second time protesters had demonstrated against the station this week. Last Sunday, Tunisian police broke up a crowd of angry Salafists intent on attacking Nessma offices.
Already on Tuesday, Karoui had apologized for having broadcast the scene depicting God, but most mosque preachers devoted their Friday sermons to the issue. After the attack on his home, the station accused some imams of having incited the faithful to target station staff.
The protests have increased fears of unrest barely a week away from historic polls on Sunday next week, the first since January’s overthrow of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Earlier this week, the national media and communication authority condemned “all attempts to terrorize media professionals.”
The government called for “respect for sacred things.”
In June, six Salafists were arrested in Tunis after they stormed a movie theater and broke its glass doors in a bid to stop the screening of the film Neither Allah nor Master on secularism in Tunisia.
Rights campaigners, including feminist activists, have expressed increasing concern at what they say is the hypocritical line being taken by some extremist groups in the run-up to the election.
They accuse groups like the Islamist party Ennahda, tipped to dominate the upcoming election, of publicly condemning violence while privately encouraging it.
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