Tunisia underestimated the negative impact a small group of hardline Islamists would have on its ability to attract investors and reform its economy, President Moncef Marzouki said on Thursday.
Marzouki, attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting for the first time since the Arab Spring protest movement swept him into power, told Reuters he is also calling for an Arab peacekeeping force to move into Syria to end its civil war.
Speaking two weeks after protesters were killed and the U.S. Embassy was ransacked in the capital Tunis, Marzouki spoke to a group of executives and bankers in New York about his country's political and economic reforms in hopes of attracting needed investment.
The protests were sparked by Islamists who blamed the United States for a film that mocks the Prophet Mohammad.
"Our police estimate there are just 3,000 of these Salafists in the country of 10 million," Marzouki said after speaking at an exclusive dinner organized by the Business Council for International Understanding.
"There was a lack of security measures. We didn't expect those people to be so violent. Now it is a signal that we have to stop the phenomena because otherwise they are harming the image of the country," he said.
Tunisian authorities are hunting for Salafist Saif-Allah Benahssine, the leader of the Tunisian branch of the hardline Islamist Ansar al-Sharia group that is believed to be behind the Sept. 14 attack on the U.S. embassy.
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