According to Tunisian news reports, four men, ages 19-20, were arrested last Friday by national security units. The suspects, who are not known to belong to any extremist groups, confessed to making four Molotov cocktails that they threw at the synagogue as part of general unrest that has gripped the country in recent weeks. A fifth suspect was arrested last Saturday night.
The Jewish site was set on fire after assailants threw firebombs into the building’s yard. The synagogue was empty at the time and the fire was extinguished quickly. The fire caused a small amount of damage to the building’s structure.
Violent anti-austerity protests have erupted in Tunisia in recent weeks over the country’s high unemployment rate and economic stagnation. According to reports, more than 700 people have been arrested as the government has promised a series of social reforms to address the concerns of the protesters. The demonstrations coincide with the seventh anniversary of the “Arab Spring” protests that began in Tunisia in January 2011.
It is believed that Jews constructed the Ghriba Synagogue after fleeing the land of Israel following either the destruction of Jerusalem’s First Temple in 586 B.C. or the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 B.C. In 2002, the Tunisian synagogue was hit by an Al-Qaeda suicide bombing that killed 21 people.