Tunisia police launch manhunt for politician's killer; 4 arrested

Three more Islamist radicals are under arrest in connection with Chokri Belaid's assassination, which led to rioting across the country and turmoil in Tunisian's government.

TUNIS — Tunisian police are on a manhunt after identifying the killer of an opposition politician, whose assassination this month sparked protests across the country and plunged the government into crisis, Prime Minister-designate Ali Larayedh said Tuesday.

Larayedh said four suspects belonging to a radical Islamist group are being held over their alleged involvement in the assassination of leftist opposition politician Chokri Belaid Feb. 6. The suspects, members of the hardline Salafist movement who were arrested in the last 48 hours, were just accomplices to the killing and did not include the assassin himself.

"Now we have identified the killer of Belaid and he is on the run. The police are looking for him," he said.

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The assassination of Belaid, a politician from the Popular Front coalition, occurred outside his home on Feb. 6. It shocked the country, and many blamed the Islamist-led governing coalition, unleashing days of protests. On Sunday, thousands demonstrated in downtown Tunis over the lack of results in the investigation.

Many have accused the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, which dominates the government, of complicity in the attack, citing its alleged use of gangs to intimidate political opponents. But Ennahda has denied ever resorting to any violence and has vehemently condemned the assassination.

Larayedh, who is a member of Ennahda, did not identify the group he was holding responsible for the assassination, but denied there were any foreign links to the killing.

Since the overthrow of Tunisia's secular dictatorship in January 2011, there has been a rise in Salafiis, who are ultraconservative Muslims, some of whom have resorted to violence. Sept. 14, a band attacked the U.S. Embassy and damaged the surroundings. Tunisia's government has blamed the radical Islamic group Ansar al-Shariah for that attack and said it is trying to track down its leader.

Larayedh said that he was conducting Tuesday's news conference in response to pressure for results of the investigation and media leaks the night before that had erroneously claimed the murderer himself had been arrested.

"The investigation is ongoing, and I will give you the latest conclusions," he said. "We cannot give any details that would affect the inquiry."

The four suspects range in age from 26 to 34 and are part of a "radical religious group," the minister said, adding that one had confessed to accompanying the actual assassin. At least some of the others detained had been involved in checking out the site a few days before the attack, the minister said.

Belaid was shot four times as he got in his car outside his house. The suspect involved in the actual attack took part in a reenactment of the crime scene outside Belaid's home on Tuesday wearing a mask and under heavy police guard.

"It was an ignoble crime with repercussions on the country's security and social peace, and has threatened to take us into chaos and the unknown," Larayedh said at the press conference.

The assassination resulted in the resignation of the country's prime minister, and Larayedh has been appointed his successor to form a new coalition government.

Authorities also have discovered many weapons caches and clashed with militants crossing into the country from neighboring Algeria and Libya. Larayedh said he believes some of the weapons were to carry out terrorist attacks inside Tunisia, while others were en route from Libya to Islamist militants fighting in northern Mali.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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