Authorities in Tunisia have arrested the alleged murderer of 34-year-old Polish priest Fr. Marek Marius Rybinski, who was found dead on Feb. 18.
Police are holding local maintenance worker Chokri Ben Mustapha Bel-Sadek El-Mestiri in connection with the murder.
The body of Fr. Rybinski – a Polish Salesian missionary – was discovered last Friday in the parking lot of the local Salesian school, which is located in the Tunis suburb of Manouma. Although the Associated Press reported that his throat was slit, the Vatican-based Fides news agency stated that the priest was beheaded.
Bishop Maroun Elias Nimeh Lahham of Tunis told Fides on Feb. 23 that El-Mestiri was “a jack of all trades at the missionary house” and “was given 2,000 dinars (around $1,400 U.S. dollars) three months ago by Fr Rybinski, to buy materials to do maintenance work at the school.”
“El-Mestiri had spent the money, how we don't know. Fr Rybinski, seeing that the materials hadn't been purchased, began asking for the money to be returned.”
Archbishop Lahham said that the worker allegedly “panicked and killed the missionary.”
“Initially, given the manner in which he was killed, it was thought that this was carried out by extremists,” he added.
In an interview with Vatican Radio broadcast on Feb. 19, Archbishop Lahham recounted the incidents leading up to the murder. He reported that several weeks ago the local Salesian Fathers had received a threatening letter written in excellent French. The correspondence was addressed to “the Jews,” demanded money and threatened to kill everyone in the house if they failed to cooperate.
The archbishop said the letter was signed “with a Nazi swastika,” and explained “for the ordinary people” in the area, “if you are not a Muslim you are a Jew.” He recalled a recent demonstration in front of the local synagogue in which an Islamic group “told the Jews to leave because the army of Muhammad was on the way. ”
On Feb. 23, he told Fides that “whether there is a relationship between the murder” and the “threatening letter” remains to be seen.
Last weekend, hundreds participated in demonstrations including students from the Salesian school and their parents, who mourned the priest's untimely death and brought photographs, cards and flowers to the school in remembrance. On Feb. 18, Archbishop Lahham presided over a Mass in honor of Fr. Rybinski at the Cathedral of Tunis.