By Stephen Graham, April 16, 2002
BERLIN — German police have arrested a person believed to have acted as a
contact in a truck blast at a synagogue in Tunisia that killed 15 people, federal
prosecutors said Tuesday.
Spokeswoman Frauke Scheuten said the suspect was taken into custody in the
western city of Duisberg on a tip about a telephone call from Tunisia to
Germany before the explosion.
According to a report in German news magazine Stern, German police
eavesdropped on a phone conversation shortly before Thursday’s explosion of a
gas-laden truck at the Ghriba synagogue on the resort island of Djerba.
Either the driver or a passenger traveling in the truck spoke with a contact in
Germany who police believe has links to radical Islamist circles, the magazine
Tunisia has described the blast as a “tragic accident,” but German officials have
said there are growing indications that the explosion was caused deliberately.
German federal prosecutors said Monday they were also investigating the case,
acting on the suspicion of a terrorist attack.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Monday that the possibility of an attack
reinforced the need to keep up the fight against global terror and pledged that
“the (German) government will use all means it has to pursue anyone
responsible – this will also be a matter for the international police and justice
authorities, because it isn’t clear where we should look for anyone responsible.”
Injured German tourists who have been flown back home for treatment
remained in hospitals Monday, where several remain in critical condition. The
explosion at the historic Ghriba synagogue has shaken Tunisia’s small Jewish
population, about half of whom live on Djerba, a dusty island of palm trees and
olive groves. The predominantly Muslim North African nation has a population
of about 9.7 million, and about 2,000 Jews.
As a result of the blast, the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to the synagogue
may receive fewer visitors this year. It typically draws thousands of Jews from
around the world.
Ghriba sits on the site of one of Africa’s oldest synagogues, built in 586 B.C.
The first Jews to arrive brought a stone from the ancient temple of Jerusalem
that was destroyed by the Babylonians. The stone is kept in a grotto at the
After the end of World War II, tens of thousands of Jews left in waves. Some
moved to the new state of Israel, and in 1956, when the French protectorate of
Tunisia won independence, others moved to France. In 1967, still others left
after the Middle East war led to rioting and burning of synagogues.