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Tunisian authorities investigate a fire at a synagogue, question a suspect in custody

TUNIS, Tunisia — A man believed to have started a fire in a garden at a synagogue in the east of Tunisia is in custody and under investigation for targeting a Jewish house of worship, officials said Saturday.

Hichem ben Ayad, the public prosecutor in the eastern port city of Sfax, told The Associated Press that a garden in the courtyard of the city’s synagogue was set on fire on Sunday. An investigation was opened and a suspect was arrested, he said.

The suspect is a man in his late 40s who has worked as a public official, ben Ayad said. The man is being questioned to establish if the fire — which the prosecutor said was “a criminal act” — was premediated and deliberately targeted the Jewish house of worship.

The were no casualties in the fire that was extinguished the same day, ben Ayad said. He added that the blaze did not cause significant damage to the building. The synagogue appeared to be empty at the time, he said.

In May, five people were killed in a shooting attack on the historic Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s island of Djerba. Authorities said a Tunisian national guardsman was behind the attack.

The assailant intentionally targeted the ancient synagogue on the Mediterranean island in a premeditated act, Tunisian officials said.

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