Ousted Tunisian president 'living in remote Saudi area known for al-Qaeda links'
Published 19/01/2011 | 13:54
Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, the ex-president of Tunisia, has been sent to live in a conservative southern province of Saudi Arabia known for its links to al-Qaeda, according to reports.
Mr Ben Ali flew to the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Friday night after being refused permission to land in France, Tunisia's former colonial master.
He stayed briefly there and is even rumoured to have paid a brief pilgrimage to nearby Mecca. But according to local reports, he has now been found somewhere to stay 300 miles to the south in Abha, the capital of Asir province, which neighbours Yemen.
Although Saudi al-Qaeda members come from all over the country, a high proportion come from relatively conservative, economically underdeveloped provinces such as Asir, including several of the 9/11 attackers. In a recording, Osama bin Laden later said of them: "Asir's tribes formed the lion's share."
Said al-Shehri, deputy commander of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is from Khamis Mushayt, not far from Abha.
That Mr Ben Ali, who banned Islamist parties and was well known for high-living, has been granted asylum by puritanical Saudi Arabia is already subject of a number of jokes in the Arab world.
According to Mustafa Alani, an analyst based in Dubai with good Saudi connections, he has been allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia on condition he takes no part in politics and does not speak to the media - conditions that also applied to other political leaders who sought refuge there, from Idi Amin of Uganda to ex-prime ministerNawaz Sharif of Pakistan.
In keeping with their tradition of offering a home to former leaders, the kingdom's rulers are likely to resist all calls to have the family returned to face trial, despite assurances by the Tunisian prime minister, Mohamed Ghanouchi, that anyone involved in orders to crack down on last week's protests would face justice.
He is also said to have been joined in Saudi Arabia by his unpopular wife, Leila, after she flew at first to Dubai with a number of her relatives. It is the second marriage for both of the couple, and they have two daughters and a son.
Their two daughters, Nesrine and Cyrine, are staying in Disneyland Paris, along with Nesrine's husband, Sakher El Materi.
Mrs Trabelsi also has a large clan of brothers and nephews, one of whom, Imed Trabelsi, is said to have been killed by an angry mob as he tried to fly out of the country on Friday.