Thousands of Salafist, many of whom were dressed in Afghan military uniforms and were waving Salafist black flags, marched on Kairouan in Central Tunisia, chanting, “We are all the children of Osama (bin Laden) and “Jews, Jews, the army of Mohammed is back.”
The exclusively male march was organized as part of the extremist Islamic movement’s annual assembly, AFP reported.
The Salafist movement obtained increased popularity in April 2011, following the protests that forced former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee Tunisia after 23 years in power.
While the revolution brought moderate Islamists to power to replace the former secular administration, it also led to the rise of extremist groups advocating the adoption of fundamentalist sharia law.
The leader of the outlawed Hizb Ettahrir party, Ridha Bel Haj, told the crowd he was hopeful as a result of the number of participants at the country’s second annual assembly.
“The revolution was made so that sharia could be applied,” he said.
“The second congress...reunites all brothers whose objective it is to apply sharia and God’s law in our country,” according to a magazine distributed at the rally.
“Frankly, my first reaction in seeing them was fear,” said a tourist who witnessed the demonstration. “I don’t know if they bring luck or misfortune to Tunisia, but I’m afraid of a second, religious revolution.”
There are an estimated 10,000 Salafist adherents in Tunisia, in comparison with approximately 1,000 Jews remaining from a former 100,000-strong community, noted AFP.
The demonstration comes following increased travel restrictions imposed by Israel’s National Security Council (NSC) on the Tunisian island of Djerba prior to the Jewish festival of Lag B’Omer, amid increased concerns of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in the country.
Despite restrictions, however, the pilgrimage proceeded with approximately 1,500 Jews taking part from across, France, Tunisia and Italy.