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Tunisia Islamist flees mosque where he holed up

By Bouazza Ben Bouazza

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 17 2012 10:40 a.m. MDT

View of burned American school adjacent to the U.S. embassy compound in Tunis, Tunisia, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, a day after several thousand demonstrators angry over a film that insults the Prophet Muhammad stormed the compound. Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party condemned the attacks, saying Saturday that such violence threatens the country's progress toward democracy after decades of dictatorship.

Hassene Dridi, Associated Press

TUNIS, Tunisia — A hardline Muslim leader blamed for encouraging last week's violent protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia fled through a police cordon Monday around one of the capital's main mosques, where he had been holed up with his followers.

Hundreds of security forces had surrounded El Fateh mosque in Tunis, where Seif-Allah Ben Hassine had earlier denounced the Tunisian government and police for Friday's violence, claiming it was meant to be a peaceful demonstration.

An Associated Press reporter said Ben Hassine — reportedly linked with an Islamist militant group in Libya — escaped with hundreds of followers as they ran through security lines, clearly protecting his exit.

A police officer at the scene said the group exited following negotiations with authorities, but provided no further details. The security forces later withdrew from around the mosque. The officer wasn't authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be identified.

Friday's protest degenerated into violence and looting, with cars burned in the embassy parking lot and classrooms at a nearby American school trashed and looted. A U.S. flag was torn down and replaced with a black banner.

The protest — like others around the world — was carried out by demonstrators angry over a low-cost film made in the United States that insults the Prophet Muhammad.

Ben Hassine is allegedly the head of the Tunisian branch of Ansar al-Shariah — a suspect in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week that left U.S. Ambassador Christ Stevens and three colleagues dead.

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