Hardline Islamists seed terror in Tunisian town

Hundreds of hardline Islamists terrorized a Tunisian town on Saturday, attacking a police station and stores selling alcohol.

The official TAP news agency said police fired tear gas in Jendouba to disperse groups of ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis, some armed with clubs or sabers.

Four people were arrested and police were searching for others, Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh said on Radio Mosaique.

There has been a resurgence of hardline Islamists since the fall in February 2011 of Tunisia's autocratic leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had jailed many Islamists and forced others underground.

TAP said 200 Salafis reacted violently to the arrest on Friday of a fellow Muslim adhering to their brand of Islam. They threw Molotov cocktails and stones at Jendouba's national security headquarters, their numbers growing to some 500 as they moved to the center of town. They set fire to the police station and pillaged bars and stores where alcohol was sold en route, some calling for a holy war.

As police used tear gas, soldiers took up positions outside public buildings. The Salafis eventually took refuge in a mosque, TAP said.

The violence came a week after Salafis attacked bars and other places selling liquor in Sidi Bouzid, the central western town where the spark of the Tunisian revolution that triggered the Arab Spring was lit.

In a dramatic display of force, hundreds of Salafis dressed in Afghan-style garb gathered from several regions in the holy city of Kairouan last Sunday. With some bearing sabers and astride horses, they carried out martial arts exercises or rode around under the eye of Abu Yadh, whose real name is Seifallah Ben Hassine. He was imprisoned under Ben Ali but pardoned after his fall.