mardi 10 juin 2014

Foreign Fighters, Rebel Side, in Syria. 13/Tunisians

In September 2012, there are reports of the death of a Tunisian in a battalion fighting alongside al-Furqan, an armed group in the province of Idlib, fighting alongside al-Nosra1. In March 2013, the Tunisian authorities estimate that 40% of foreign fighters from the Syrian uprising are Tunisians2. Two-thirds would fight in al-Nosra. Most Tunisian jihadists would be from the town of Ben Gardane, south of Tunis. The city is located in the province of Médenine on the border with Libya. Qatar would supply money to Tunisian non-governmental organizations to recruit, offering up to 3,000 dollars per person. The fighters are grouped and trained in camps in the desert triangle between Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, sent to Turkey and then inserted in Syria. Libyan jihadist groups have established training camps in the province of Ghadames, less than 70 km from the Tunisian border. Volunteers complete their military training for 20 days3 in the province of Zawiyah and go to the port of Brega to Istanbul, before finishing at the Syrian border. Some Tunisian fighters also come from Lebanon, especially if they are going to or near Damascus ; when it is Aleppo and other cities of the north, they pass through Turkey.

In autumn 2013, the phenomenon seems better understood. It is not limited to a poor class, effectively providing voluntary : graduates from middle and upper classes also participate in jihad4. While initially southern Tunisia, traditionally islamist, is including the big battalions, today Tunisians of the center and the north-Bizerte has become one of the bastions of the case. Ayman Nabeli Tabalba leaves town in the central province of Monastir, to fight in the ranks of ISIS. Born in 1986, the youngest of a family of eight children, he is not particularly religious. It was after the 2011 revolution he became a Salafi. Tunisian Salafists have indeed invested mosques after the victory of the Ennahda party in the elections, and in particular that of al-Iman, near the house of Ayman. Despite the efforts of his family, the Tunisian authorities are relatively tolerant towards Salafists. Whole flights of Turkish Airlines carry volunteers for jihad to Istanbul. In the suburbs of Tunis, the state has disappeared with the fall of Ben Ali and Ennahda intrudes including through controlled Salafist mosques. The Tunisian Interior Minister stated that its services have already prevented 6,000 men to travel to Syria ... a Tunisian had shot a video for Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar, the group of Omar Shishani now rallied to ISIS in July 20135. In May of the same year, the Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs had yet recognized the presence of a maximum of 800 Tunisians in Syria, a local radio talking about much larger numbers with no less than 132 Tunisians killed in February 2013 in the Aleppo region, mostly from Sidi Bou Zid, where the revolution began in 20116. But these figures appear to be largely overestimated, the radio is also customary of dissemination of misinformation.


The course of Aymen Saadi, who failed to blow his explosives near a presidential mausoleum, that of Bourguiba, south of Tunis in October 2013, illustrates the variety of recruitment. City Zarghouan, east of Tunis, however, is not a known bastion of Islam. Aymen has excellent grades in school, especially in languages and history. End of 2012, however, he became radicalized, showing an influence of Salafis, then go to the Libyan training camps in March 2013. Nevertheless, he found strapped with explosives in Tunisia, not in Syria. Abu Talha, from a town near the Libyan border, fought near Aleppo. He spent six months in an Islamist brigade in 2012. He then traveled to Syria alone before making contact with the rebels on the Turkish border, which shows perhaps the sophisticated and organized networks were formed at the end of 2012-early 2013. A Syrian commander teaches recruits the handling of the AK-47, RPG and guns, all interspersed with readings from the Koran and other religious courses. Abu Talha had fought side by side with al-Nosra7. On 24 July 2013, ISIS announces the death of a Tunisian suicide bomber, Hamza al 'Awni, aka Abu Hajer al Tunisi. Born in Sousse, graduated as an engineer, Awni seeks to reach Chechnya in 2003. Came in Syria in September 2012, he led his kamikaze attack 10 July 20138. Al-Ansar Sharia Facebook page praised Tunisian soldiers who died "martyrs" in Syria9.

Abu Ayman is an example of voluntary recruited by Ansar al-Charia10. Architect in Tunis, he decided to fight in Syria with two neighbors. It flies to Amman in Jordan, where he must succeed in crossing the border, patrolled by Jordanian intelligence. Once the insertion done, Abu Ayman and his companions are separated. Himself finally landed in the fighting on the outskirts of Damascus. He joined a unit, Ansar al-Sharia, which has 300 fighters, including many foreigners (Chechens, Kosovars, and Tunisians). In August 2013, Aaron Zelin had interviewed a Tunisian fighter who has returned from Syria, in the province of Nabeul, east of Tunis. Coming from a modest background, this fighter is back with money that enabled him to help his family live better. His boss, a Salafist who has ties with Saudi Arabia, had financed part of his trip to Turkey. He probably fought with al-Nosra : he had become more "religious" in 2011, after the Tunisian revolution, following first Ennahda and then the Salafists. The mosque was dependent Ansar al-Sharia, an Egyptian imam came from Saudi Arabia. It seems that Ansar al-Sharia directs his fighters to al-Nosra : three other men were left with this voluntary, one was killed. On his return, he was arrested on his descent of the aircraft and detained for three and a half months before being freed11.

With regard to training camps in Libya which pass Tunisian volunteers and others, they would be the product of Ansar al-Sharia movement in Libya, a former rebel brigade that fought Gaddafi in 2011, before conducting the bombing that killed U.S. Ambassador consulate in Benghazi in September 201212. Saif Allah bin Hussein, aka Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, released in 2011, was part of the old network of Maarufi Tareq, who had links with al-Qaeda : he created Ansar al-Sharia in late April 201113. This is the organization that organizes and transit passage through mobile camps of volunteers throughout eastern Libya, near the Tunisian border. According to official reports, dozens of Algerians and Tunisians arrive each week to be trained in these camps before leaving by plane with false passports Libyans in Benghazi, Ansar al-Sharia enjoying accomplices at the airport. Ayman Saadi, arrested October 30, 2013 near the mausoleum of Bourguiba, probably passed through these camps in Benghazi and Derna but the Libyans then returned him to Tunisia, not in Syria. It is not known if Saadi had links with Ansar al-Sharia in Libya. We know however that both Tunisia and Libya movements are related : the first receives weapons from the second.

Abou Iyad al-Tunisi.-Source :

Kamem Zarrouk.-Source :

In February 2014, the Interior Minister said that 400 Tunisian jihadists have returned from Syrian battlefield14. The statement comes after the National Guard and the agency against terrorism have been defeated in capturing Zarruq Kamel, number 2 of Ansar al-Sharia, inside a mosque in a suburb Tunis. Zarrouk would then joined ISIS. Syria. Former nightclub bouncer in Tunis, he began recruiting for the Syrian jihad in 201115. According to the recent study of the Meir Amit center dedicated to volunteers from Arab countries to the Syrian jihad, Tunisians are a very important contingent, unlike jihads in Iraq or Afghanistan : there are more than a thousand Tunisians fighting in Syria. The geographical origin is confirmed: Sidi Bouzid, Ben Gardane, near the Libyan border, Zarat in the district of Gades, east of the country, stand particularly as reported starting places of volunteers. Social background is varied although most come from modest backgrounds; volunteers are recruited in mosques run by Salafis, others are influenced by the videos and other materials posted on the Internet about jihad16. In April 2014, Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia, called in an audio document from Tunisians do jihad in Syria, within the ranks of the ISIS. Recently, the group, declared a terrorist organization by the Tunisian government in the summer of 2013, might be trying to be renamed Shabab al-Tawhid. This mark may be a combination of more closely links with the Libyan movement of the same name, Ansar al-Sharia17. The Ennahda party in power in Tunisia, and associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, first not said a lot about volunteers, probably because of its hostility to the Syrian regime. But the media give wide publicity to the phenomenon and many Tunisians, especially the laity, begin to worry and fear of attacks by veterans of Syrian battlefield. In June 2013, the British media reported that twenty families have left Syria to collect their children, some were even imprisoned. End of March 2013, the Tunisian government arrested for the first time a Salafist who boasted of having spent eight months in Syria. But the country has 6,000 mosques ... A year later, in February 2014, the Minister of the Interior recognizes the impossibility of holding the fighters returning from Syria because of flaws in the law18.

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia was a leader in the use of social networks. It is used to dismiss the charge of terrorism, and to show its supports, such as ISIS in Syria. The group also used them to disseminate anti-government propaganda, like Abu Qatada about al-Filistini, based in England, and near which Abu Iyad al-Tunisi lived when he was in exile. The group also plays on possible backlash by security forces against the population, a conventional technique of the jihadists to drain support. Ansar al-Sharia also emphasizes the centrality of sharia as the basis of the law and the state19.

1Mohamed Ben Ahmed, « African Militants Killed in Syria Fighting Alongside al-Qaeda », Al-Monitor, 10 septembre 2012.
2Nesrine Hamedi, « Tunisian Jihadists Fighting in Syria », Al-Monitor, 24 mars 2013.
3Aaron Y. Zelin, «  New Evidence on Ansar al-Sharia in Libya Training Camps », The Washington Institute, 8 août 2013.
4Hazem al-Amin, « Tunisia’s 'Road to Jihad' in Syria Paved by Muslim Brotherhood », Al-Monitor, 23 octobre 2013.
11Aaron Y. Zelin, « Meeting a Returned Tunisian Foreign Fighter from the Syrian Front », The Washington Institute, 8 novembre 2013.
12Ludovico Carlino, « Ansar al-Shari’a: Transforming Libya into a Land of Jihad », Terrorism Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 1, The Jamestown Foundation, 9 janvier 2013.
13The Phenomenon of Foreign Fighters from the Arab World in the Syrian Civil War, Most of Them Fighting in the Ranks of Organizations Affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Global Jihad, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, mai 2014.
16The Phenomenon of Foreign Fighters from the Arab World in the Syrian Civil War, Most of Them Fighting in the Ranks of Organizations Affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Global Jihad, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, mai 2014.
18The Phenomenon of Foreign Fighters from the Arab World in the Syrian Civil War, Most of Them Fighting in the Ranks of Organizations Affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Global Jihad, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, mai 2014.

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