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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK
Man freed in Tunisia blast probe
Inside La Ghriba synagogue
The blast blackened the white walls of the synagogue
German police have released without charge a man arrested in connection with the explosion at a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba.

"The questioning and the examination of elements assembled by the investigators did not allow us to establish any evidence against him," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

A young girl is taken to hospital after the blast
Most of the victims were tourists

Sixteen people - 10 of whom were German - were killed when a fuel tanker exploded outside the Ghriba synagogue last Thursday.

Another 30 people, mostly Germans, were seriously hurt.

Tunis had insisted the explosion was an accident, but officials have now said they believe the driver of the lorry to be a "suspect".

According to German prosecutors, the man arrested on Monday night in the western town of Duisberg had been in contact with a person in Tunisia who, they believe, may have caused the blast.

German police eavesdropped on a phone conversation shortly before the explosion, the German news magazine Stern reports.

German authorities believe it was a deliberate attack.

Their view appeared to be reinforced when Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda militant network reportedly claimed responsibility for the blast, saying it was retaliation for Israeli military action against the Palestinians.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the London-based Arab daily which published the claim, did not say how it had obtained it but insisted it was a genuine al-Qaeda statement.

Evidence question

The Tunisian news agency TAP reported that the driver of the tanker had lived in the French city of Lyon with his family, but did not mention his nationality.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said on Monday that the possibility of an attack reinforced the need to keep up the fight against terrorism.

He pledged that the German Government would "use all available means to pursue anyone responsible".

German Interior Minister Otto Schily has questioned why repair work began at the site immediately after the blast at the risk of removing evidence.

The stakes are high for Tunisia, heavily dependent on revenue from tourism and visited by a million Germans annually.

"Whether it was really sensible immediately to carry out repair work is something we must place under a huge question mark," said Mr Schily.

The Jews of Djerba

Ghriba, whose foundations are said to date from 586 BC, is one of Africa's oldest synagogues and is still functioning.

Work of wonder
La Ghriba means "the one who works wonders"
Ancestors believed to have arrived more than 2,000 years ago
Said to have been founded after the Jewish Exodus of 586 BC
Place of pilgrimage for Sephardic Jews, second only to Jerusalem's Western Wall
Houses unique collection of Torahs

It attracts several thousand visitors for an annual spring festival.

The island of Djerba, off Tunisia's south-east coast, is a popular holiday destination.

It is also home to around 1,000 of Tunisia's 3,000 Jews.

Many Jews left mainland Tunisia for Israel following the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, and more when the synagogue in the capital Tunis was burned down during the 1967 Middle East conflict.

See also:

13 Apr 02 | Middle East
Tunisia blast claims more lives
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Mystery surrounds synagogue blast
11 Apr 02 | Middle East
Blast at Tunisian synagogue kills five
26 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tunisia
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