TUNIS, Tunisia -- A jailed Tunisian man is "strongly suspected" of being involved in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, a top Tunisian official has confirmed.
Interior Minister Ali Larayedh said were "major assumptions" that Ali Harzi, who was arrested and repatriated from Turkey, had a link to the attack in the Libyan city that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11 this year. It was unusual for Larayedh to speak so publicly about the sensitive investigation in the television interview late Wednesday.
Harzi is one of two Tunisians arrested in Turkey. Any involvement of his raises the possibility that it wasn't just Libyans attacking the U.S. consulate. Egypt has also reported that a local militant believed to be involved in the Benghazi attack was killed by security forces.
"There are two Tunisians that were arrested by Turkish authorities, who then repatriated them. One of the two is still free, the other has been arrested and is strongly suspected to have been involved in the attack of Benghazi," Larayedh said, adding that an investigation was under way.
His comments came a day before the government decided Thursday to extend the North African nation's state of emergency for three months, reflecting the persistent unrest almost two years after a popular uprising overthrew long-ruling dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Since then, ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis have held protests, claiming that Tunisian society is not sufficiently pious. There have been a number of violent incidents, including clashes Tuesday between police and sword-wielding Salafis that left two people dead.
Harzi is believed to have been a member of the Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafi group in Tunisia, according to an official close to the judiciary. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
A Libyan militia by the same name is believed to have been behind the Benghazi attack, according to witnesses who saw vehicles with the heavily armed group's logo participate in the assault.
Harzi's lawyer, Ouled Ali Anwar, told The Associated Press there was no solid evidence against his client and claimed he was being used as a "scapegoat to satisfy the Americans."
He said his client was told he has been charged with "membership of a terrorist organization" – a charge punishable by six to 12 years in prison.