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Salafist Terrorism on the Rise in Tunisia!

Interesting Article "Tunisia arrests 5 suspects after failed suicide attacks" by Hamida Ben Salah (AFP) / Published Thursday, October 31, 2013

An interesting article mentioned that Tunisian security forces on Wednesday arrested five Salafist "terrorists" with links to two failed attacks in coastal resort towns, the first suicide bids in the country for more than a decade. The suicide bomber struck early on Wednesday at the four-star Riadh Palms hotel, in the resort town of Sousse, a popular tourist destination 140 kilometers (90 miles) south of Tunis. Within just half an hour, security forces foiled another suicide attack by an 18-year-old man on the tomb of former president Habib Bourguiba, in neighboring Monastir, 20 kilometers along the coast. Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Laroui said those behind the attacks belonged to Ansar al-Sharia, Tunisia's main Salafist movement, which the authorities have designated a "terrorist organization" with ties to Al-Qaeda. Would you like to know more?

Since the 2011 revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has been rocked by violence blamed on radical Islamist groups suppressed under the former dictator, including the killings this year of two opposition MPs. Wednesday's planned attacks are likely to fuel fears for Tunisia's stricken tourist sector, which has been largely untouched by the surge in jihadist violence since Ben Ali's ouster and which generates vital revenues for the cash-strapped government. Ennahda party, which swept Tunisia's first post-revolutionary elections in October 2011, has been sharply criticized by the opposition for failing to combat a rise in jihadist militancy.

The army on Tuesday launched a "huge" operation to track down jihadists in the central Sidi Bouzid region, after six policemen were killed in the area last week. The government has linked Tunisia's armed jihadists to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but it has admitted lacking adequate resources to combat them.

So who what is Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia? and what is their connection to the Salafists?

The public rise of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) – the radical Islamist group recently listed as a terrorist organization by the Tunisian government – first began two and a half years ago, and online. n 27 April, 2011, a blog titled the al-Qayrawan Media Foundation (QMF) was created, and two days later a corresponding Facebook page was established. Then, on 15 May, another Facebook page under the name Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia was launched, coinciding with the announcement that a conference would be convened in Tunis on 21 May. This is the public story of AST’s emergence, and since 2011, the group’s visibility has grown significantly; the group has courted controversy through its protests against blasphemy, been accused of involvement in political violence, and been banned by the state. Yet the organization remains poorly understood, not least with regards to its real origins, the story of which stretches several years further back than 2011, runs much deeper into Tunisian politics than has otherwise been disclosed, and has up to now stayed largely concealed.

According to open sources, the organization started in 2006 in a Tunisian prison when Hamadi Jebali – a senior member of the Islamist organization al-Nahda who went on to become Prime Minister (2011-2013) – was released from jail in February 2006, some more radical Islamists believed they too could be leaving prison soon. They began planning for their mission once on the outside, and though the group did not have a name for it at the time, 20 Islamists, including AST’s future leader, Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, agreed to create a new organization. The group’s release in fact took longer than expected, and it was only in March 2011, following the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, that they were pardoned and set free. Once outside, the group organized, gathering in Abu Iyadh’s house, and began implementing the plans they had been working on for the previous five years. AST started outreach efforts in Tunis, Sousse, Sidi Bouzid, al-Qayrawan, and Bizerte as well as making contact with the Salafi cleric Shaykh al-Khatib al-Idrissi. Although there is more public distance between al-Idrissi and AST currently, when AST first began, al-Idrissi promoted its existence and early activities via his official Facebook page and was loosely affiliated with AST’s original media outlet QMF. Al-Idrissi is one of, if not the most, influential Salafi clerics in Tunisia. In 1985, he went to Saudi Arabia and formally trained with some of the most important Salafi clerics of the modern era including ‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin ‘Abd Allah bin Baz. AST’s early outreach to al-Idrissi highlights the fact it wanted strong backing from the ‘ulama – the class of Muslim legal scholars – to legitimize its cause.

Since spring 2012, al-Idrissi has been less public in his support for AST, and around a similar time, AST established a new media outlet named al-Bayyariq Media Foundation. It appears that al-Idrissi’s the current relationship with AST is more as an unaffiliated outside spiritual guide and that Abu Iyadh is the main link between AST and al-Idrissi. In addition to these early efforts, AST also had meetings and communications with al-Nahda, now Tunisia’s biggest political party, including with its leader Rachid Ghannouchi. According the founding member of AST I spoke with, relations between the Salafis and al-Nahda went back to the time that members of each group were in prison together. They reportedly passed letters to one another and were in close communication, though good relations may have been kept for cynical purposes. For example, a letter from Ali Larayedh, Tunisia’s current Prime Minister, to Nur al-Din Ganduz, another senior al-Nahda figure, allegedly explained that the Salafis were beneficial to al-Nahda because they make them look better and more moderate in comparison.

Following the overthrow of Ben Ali and the release of the prisoners, dialogue between factions within al-Nahda and AST continued. n these meetings, Ghannouchi allegedly told Abu Iyadh to encourage the youth of AST to join the national army to infiltrate it, and to get another group of youth do the same with the National Guard. This claim is less surprising when one bears in mind the leaked video that surfaced in October 2012 in which Ghannouchi provides strategic advice to the Salafis. In one part of the video, the al-Nahda leader warns, “the Army is in their [the secularists] hands. We cannot guarantee the police and the army.” It is possible Ghannouchi did not want to risk his own cadres, but saw a back door to controlling elements within the security apparatus by using the Salafis and the zeal of their youth members.

This relationship between al-Nahda and AST has since soured, and the al-Nahda-led government designated AST as a terrorist organization on 27 August, 2013. n the two and a half years since AST emerged in Tunisian politics, the organization has been involved in a serious campaign for hearts and minds publicly. Yet it is also believed to have been involved in more nefarious and concealed activities, though these have been difficult to confirm.

AST has a military wing, thus contradicting one of Abu Iyadh’s famous statements that Tunisia is a land of da’wah (meaning preaching or invitation) and not jihad, and his claim that AST does not have or obtain weapons. Sources also noted that the relationship of AST with Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) and Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt (ASE) is like a “spider web,” explaining that they all know one another – presumably referring to the groups’ respective leaders. Further, sources said certain members of AST, ASL, and ASE travelled together to Gaza and northern Sinai in 2012. Sources did not say that they went for military training – though it should not necessarily be ruled out considering Tunisians have reportedly trained in Libya with ASL – but rather to meet Palestinian Salafis who advised them on issues related to administration, organization, and management.

Last May, AST members clashed with security forces following a government ban on the group’s third annual congress.

In related news, the SITE Intelligence Group reports that Ansar al Sharia Libya has "released three albums of photos that documented its first open event" in Derna, an eastern Libyan city known as a hotbed for jihadism. The event was titled, "A Step Towards Building an Islamic State."

One of the photos can be seen on the right.

It was reported that a militant terrorist group attacked Tunisian security soldiers at Al-Talla Mountain in Baja province on Thursday afternoon, killing two soldiers and injuring another with critical wounds. Tunisian military helicopters and jets bombed hideouts in Al-Talla mountain to force the terrorists leave their hiding places, killing two of them and injuring a third, official news agency quoted a security source as saying. Moreover, The security authorities believed the terrorists have killed the two security soldiers in that area, and have found weapons and materials used to make explosives in the house used by the terrorist group.

But reports are emerging that actions are being taken against Ansar al-Sharia as a whole. At least seven members of Ansar al-Sharia, died in the Libyan city of Sirte from an explosion this month, but no one is certain who killed the Jihadists, according to a statement from the Libyan Deputy Defense Minister Khaled al- Sharif.

The original Ansar al-Sharia was created by radical Muslims during the 2011 uprising in Benghazi that ousted the former Libyan dictator Moamar Khadhafi and his brutal regime with the help of the United States and NATO. The group is alleged to have attacked the American diplomatic mission in city of Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S diplomatic staff members were murdered. According to an Israeli counterterrorism sources, Ansar al-Sharia runs a training camp for Jihadist combatants only a few miles from Sirte.

The attack this week could be in response to what happened last week in Tunisia, Tunisian security forces captured al-Khatib al-Idrissy, who is thought to be the chief of outlawed fundamentalist Islamist militia group Ansar al-Shariah Tunisia. He was captured in the central town of Sidi Ali Ben Aoun, where Islamic militia killed six national guardsmen on Wednesday. A police officer was gunned down in a separate clash on the same day.

Idrissy is thought to be the brains behind jihadist Salafism in Tunisia. Investigators believe Ansar al-Sharia organized the assassinations of leftist politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, who were both felled by unknown gunmen in identical hits.

He was found hidden in a residence in the Sidi Bouzid governorate town, where police seized large quantities of explosives during house to house searches following q deadly attack on the national guardsmen sometime prior.

Another Ansar al-Sharia (AST) Tunisia leader, Seifallah Ben Hassine (aka Abu Iyad al-Tunisi), has been a fugitive from justice as of September 2012 thanks to what investigative reporters allege are solid links with some elements within the police. Police discovered a large stash of explosives in the capital of Tunis, foiling what they said was an imminent attack on the Sheraton Hotel - which is largely frequented by foreigners - and on state TV headquarters in the El Menzah neighborhood, Tunisie Numérique website reported. By disrupting their larger plans, what we saw this week might have been the cells activated without proper guidance, which makes AST a very dangerous unpredictable element within Tunisia and the world.

Ansar Al Shariya in Tunisia is a Salafists group. The emergence of Salafi movements in post-Ben Ali Tunisia surprised both the international community and many in Tunisia itself. The astonishment was such that when the first Salafi demonstrations took place in downtown Tunis, journalists and observers were talking quite confusingly about the phenomenon. Some accused men of the former regime of having organized the demonstrations by these bearded men, others claimed they were members of the Tahrir Party (a pan-Islamist movement), and others still labeled them with the generic formula of “Islamists.” What many did not fully realize is that a new rebellious generation had matured during the 2000s, keeping their views hidden. When democracy gave the chance for everybody to “perform” freely, they showed off and did all through their most meaningful symbols. Dressed in the Afghan kamis and sporting long beards, they slowly occupied public spaces, particularly in working class neighborhoods.

As the phenomenon grew, hysteria began to spread in society, especially among Tunisian seculars and liberals. In the context of the Ennahda electoral victory in the 2011 elections of the constituent assembly, and with the emergence of a larger Islamic public, Tunisia seemed to have radically changed its face. In fact, the time had finally come to reveal the “lie” of a secular country that appeared more similar to France than to any other Arab country. Post-revolutionary Tunisia was showing off a new Islamic identity.

Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between different Islamic representations. There is, on the one hand, a large and better known Islamic sphere represented by a conservative middle class, which finds its political reference mainly in the Ennahda party. On the other hand, there is a new radical Islamism composed mostly of a younger generation, belonging to the main disenfranchised social class and integrating into the public scene in the name of jihad. While the phenomenon is the heir of international jihadism—most famously inspired by al-Qaeda—the social dynamics expressed in the Tunisian scenario are new. Thousands of young people from lower social classes were appearing in the public scene, employing the intellectual and political tools of a radical Islam. Adopting the international slogans of jihad, they started to occupy a new social space. They do not recognize democracy but instead, they benefit from the freedom it guarantees, practicing their “jihad” in a Muslim society with a Muslim inspired government (though very moderate from their point of view). It is an unpredictable situation that gives them new chances but new challenges as well.

The Salafi methodology, also known as the Salafist movement, is a movement among Sunni Muslims named after the Salaf ("predecessors" or "ancestors"), the earliest Muslims, whom they consider the examples of Islamic practice.

he movement is often described as related to, including, or synonymous with Wahhabism, but Salafists consider the term Wahhabi derogatory. Salafism has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam and, particularly in the West, with the Salafi Jihadis who espouse violent jihad against civilians as a legitimate expression of Islam. Academics and historians use the term to denote "a school of thought which surfaced in the second half of the 19th century as a reaction to the spread of European ideas," and "sought to expose the roots of modernity within Muslim civilization. Salafism should not be confused with the ahl i-hadith sect of the Indian subcontinent. Salafis submit to scholarly authority (taqlid), for example those of the Arabian countries are generally bound by Hanbali jurisprudence. All Salafi scholars of Saudi Arabia, including Sheikh bin Baz, Sheikh Salih al-Uthaymeen, al Albanee, Sheikh Salih al-Fawzaan, Sheikh Saud bin Shuraim and Sheikh al-Sudais, advocate following an Imam rather than understanding scripture oneself. Sheikh al-Albanee stated "blind following of the earlier scholars is far better than this free-for-all; rather for the ordinary Muslim, following a scholar is obligatory and this free-for-all is haraam".

Though Salafis always claim to be Sunni Muslims, some people claim that Salafis are a sect unto their own, and are thus different to orthodox (i.e. traditional) Sunni Muslims. Salafism has been described as the fastest growing Islamic movement in a 2010 German domestic intelligence service annual report.

Author and academic Gilles Kepel writes that the Salafis whom he encountered in Europe in the 1980s were "totally apolitical". But by the mid-1990s he met some who felt jihad in the form of "violence and terrorism" was "justified to realize their political objectives". The combination of Salafi alienation from all things non-Muslim—including "mainstream European society"—and violent jihad created a "volatile mixture”. “When you're in the state of such alienation you become easy prey to the jihadi guys who will feed you more savory propaganda than the old propaganda of the Salafists who tell you to pray, fast and who are not taking action".

According to Michael Horowitz, Salafi Jihad is an ideology that identifies the "alleged source of the Muslims’ conundrum" in the "persistent attacks and humiliation of Muslims on the part of an anti-Islamic alliance of what it terms ‘Crusaders,’ ‘Zionists,’ and ‘apostates.’"

According to Mohammed M. Hafez, contemporary jihadi Salafism is characterized by "five features" -immense emphasis on the concept of tawhid (unity of God);
-God's sovereignty (hakimiyyat Allah) which defines right and wrong, good and evil, and which supersedes human reasoning is applicable in all places on earth and at all times, and makes unnecessary and unIslamic other ideologies such as liberalism or humanism;
-the rejection of all innovation (Bid‘ah) to Islam;
-the permissibility and necessity of takfir (the declaring of a Muslim to be outside the creed, so that they may face execution.);
-and on the centrality of jihad against infidel regimes.

Its leaders included Afghan jihad veterans such as the Palestinian Abu Qatada, the Syrian Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, the Egyptian Mustapha Kamel, known as Abu Hamza al-Masri and later Osama bin Laden. The dissident Saudi preachers Salman al-Ouda and Safar Al-Hawali, were held in high esteem by this school.

Murad Al-shishani of the The Jamestown Foundation states there have been three generations of Salafi-jihadists: those waging jihad in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq. As of the mid-2000s, Arab fighters in Iraq were "the latest and most important development of the global Salafi-jihadi movement". These fighters were usually not Iraqis, but volunteers who had come to Iraq from other countries, mainly Saudi Arabia. Unlike in earlier Salafi jihadi actions "a significant constituency of Egyptians" was not among the volunteers.[ According to Bruce Livesey Salafist jihadists are currently a "burgeoning presence in Europe, having attempted more than 30 terrorist attacks among E.U. countries" from September 2001 to the beginning of 2005".

Salafist jihadists groups include Al Qaeda, the now defunct Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA), and prior to 2009, Kashmir-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. ccording to Mohammed M. Hafez, "as of 2006 the two major groups within the jihadi Salafi camp" in Iraq were the Mujahidin Shura Council and the Ansar al Sunna Group. here are also a number of small jihadist Salafist groups in Azerbaijan. Jund Ansar Allah is, or was, an armed Salafist jihadist organization in the Gaza Strip. On August 14, 2009, the group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdel Latif Moussa, announced during Friday sermon the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the Palestinian territories attacking the ruling authority, the Islamist group Hamas, for failing to enforce Sharia law. In Syria, the group Jabhat al-Nusra has been described as possessing "a hard-line Salafi-Jihadist ideology" and being one of "the most effective" groups fighting the regime.

As AST continues to grow in Tunisia despite its official ban, filling in some previously concealed gaps regarding its history, its relations and its strategies will help us understand the mysterious group a little better and look to defeat them before they commit any more devastating terrorist attacks.

Ghazali And The Poetics Of Imagination, by Ebrahim Moosa ISBN 0-8078-5612-6 – Page 21


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