The author would like to thank Dr. Peter Borowsky, assistant professor in Al Akhawayn University for editing this paper. The field work for this paper was funded by the MENARA project of the H2020 European Union (EU) project for innovation and research under the number 693244.
In March 2015, an assault in Tunis on the Bardo Museum by the Okba Ibn Nafaa Jihadi Brigade, affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), led to the murder of 24 foreign tourists. In June of the same year, the city of Sousse was assaulted by ISIS, an attack in which 39 foreign tourists were killed. Worse, in March 2016, ISIS launched another strike, this time to take control of the border city of Ben Guerdane, known for its hostility to the central government in Tunis. This time, however, the Tunisian security services, supported by the local population, repelled the attack and inflicted heavy losses on ISIS. Three attacks, three events summarize the paradox of the trajectory of jihadi organizations in Tunisia.
Tunisia is the only country in the Arab world that has gone through a successful democratic political transition in the context of the Arab Spring. Moreover, by all accounts, it is one of the few countries where Islamist movements, especially radical ones, were believed to be extremely weak. However, in the wake of the Arab revolts, Tunisia has "sent" one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, most of whom have joined ISIS, along with a large number of fighters to Libya. Furthermore, since 2013, when jihadi activities in Tunisia started (a few as early as the fall of the Ben Ali regime in 2011), a massive upsurge in jihadi attacks has followed, as both AQIM and ISIS launched attacks against the country, especially the strategic tourist sector. By 2014-15, many believed that instability, insecurity and economic crisis could actually threaten Tunisia's ongoing democratic transition.
This took place in the context of a major shift in the Tunisian jihadists' perspective on their country. Instead of being a land of recruitment, Tunisia had become a land of jihad. In the context of the collapse of ISIS in the Middle East and the prospect for the return of thousands of Tunisian foreign fighters from that region, Libya, a collapsed state, could become the destination for those returnees, who would then coalesce with jihadi groups there. All of this increases the dangers to Tunisia. As Michael Ayeri put it, "The major risks come from Libya, that the returnees go to Libya… and then conduct a rapprochement with the existing structures of ISIS there… [and] when added to the jihadi networks in Tunisia, there is danger."1 Ayeri further explains that for the jihadists, Tunisia is perceived as "a weak spot" in North Africa and needs to remain so.
Based on interviews with radicals, the goal of the jihadists is to weaken Tunisia, not to destroy the state. Tunisia offers a rear logistic basis and legal means that would be difficult to find anywhere else. The dream and goal of the jihadists is to go from Libya to Ben Guerdane (a border city in Tunisia) and from there, with the support of the population, to provoke a general explosion which would lead to the collapse of Algeria, the pearl for them with its wealth, resources etc.2
The collapse of the caliphate in Syria and the ongoing instability in Libya put Tunisia directly under threat of those organizations. In the same context, and given its geographic proximity with Algeria, Tunisia's stability has been presented as "a red line" by Algerian officials, who consider the situation in the country to be a matter of national security.3 Furthermore, the destabilization of Tunisia could also directly affect the security of Europe. In this context, several questions must be addressed. What are the goals of those jihadi organizations in Tunisia? How have they evolved and become so powerful? How did the Tunisian state respond to this threat? How have regional and major powers participated in stabilizing the country? What are the prospects for a stable Tunisia?
ISLAMIC COMBATANT GROUP
The roots of jihadism in Tunisia are to be found in the Tunisian Islamic Combatant Group (TICG), created in 2000, most likely in Jalalabad (Afghanistan), when several so-called Tunisian Afghans led by Tarek Maaroufi (aka Abu Ismaeil El Jendoubi) and Seifallah Ben Hassine (aka Abu Iyadh) decided to organize the radical Tunisian jihadists. However, as Habib Sayyah explains, the TICG was largely an offshore organization that wanted to "connect, support and structure the Tunisian jihadi community in exile."4 Indeed, the Tunisian jihadists originally were militants of the Mouvement de Tendance Islamique (MTI), close to the Muslim Brotherhood and led by Rached Genouchi (forbidden during the Bourghiba years). After the arrival of Ben Ali to power in 1989, the MTI accepted to play the political game of democracy, and the party was renamed Ennahda (Rebirth) in 1989. However, Ben Ali had consolidated his power by then and refused to legalize Ennahda, ordering a crackdown on the party and its militants.
In this context, as one of the key leaders of the TICG explained:
For us, and at the time, Tunisia was ruled by an ignorant dictatorship which refused the political Islam of Ghenouchi.... His engagement in this trajectory is due first and foremost to the dictatorship in Tunisia [of the Ben Ali regime] and the exclusion of political Islam…, to support the Muslim cause against hypocrisy and injustice.... The Western regimes were also perceived as oppressors, occupiers taking advantage of our wealth.5
He further explained that in this early period, while in exile, they had created at first an organization called Jamaat Al Jihad, led by Abu Al Harith, the purpose of which was precisely to fight what they deemed as "hypocrisy and injustice."6 However, this organization was unable to establish itself in Tunisia. Indeed, the Ennahda party decided to confront the Ben Ali regime by political means rather than through violence, thus limiting the jihadists' ability to acquire a "critical mass" for recruitment and support. As Habib Sayyah explains, while Ennahda was a clandestine organization during those years, it was not at that point well versed in jihadism; the radical fringes were unable to mobilize popular support.7 In this context, he explains, "When one was a salafi jihadist, his options were rather clear and limited: he leaves for the jihad abroad in Afghanistan, Chechnya, or Bosnia; he stays here and ends up in jail; or he must always keep a low profile."8 Indeed, the Ben Ali regime had implemented a very effective strategy for combating radicals. It was based on repression:9 (1) a very dense system of surveillance, (2) institutionalization of denunciation, (3) violent repression and the widespread use of torture, (4) dense control of information and the Internet, and (5) cooptation of scientific salafists (also known as Scripturalist Salafists), who consider political activism impious and pointless and prefer to focus on education and preaching.10 All this taken together made it next to impossible to develop jihadi networks in Tunisia itself.
This situation was exemplified in the December 2006-January 2007 events, when a group of erstwhile Tunisian foreign fighters from Bosnia and Iraq, led by Lassaad Sassi and with direct contact with AQIM, tried to infiltrate Tunisia. The group arrived from Soliman and started recruiting local people into their organization, Asad ibn al-Furat's Army.11 Their intentions were to create a stronghold from which they could launch an insurrection against the Ben Ali regime.12 However, through the regime's system of denunciation, and given their lack of local support, the group was quickly discovered. After several days' of manhunt, the group was dismantled and several of its men, including Sassi, were killed; the surviving members were captured and sent to jail.
The Tunisian jihadists in exile were the only ones capable of creating a viable structured organization, which eventually became the TICG. The bulk of its members were recruited from among the Tunisian diaspora in Europe, especially Belgium, France and Italy. As an offshore jihadi organization, the TICG became extremely active abroad, participating in the jihad in Afghanistan, where Maaroufi and Seifallah Ben Hassine were introduced into the hierarchy of al-Qaeda and received military training. The former leader explained, "I had noticed that the Tunisians in Italy and Belgium had deviated from the right path. I was trying to organize and supervise the young Tunisians going to Afghanistan. I was preaching to them."13 He further explained that the idea was to have young Arabs, including Tunisians, Algerians, Libyans, go into Afghanistan to receive training and eventually fight alongside fellow jihadists there. The ultimate goal, however, was to return them to their home countries to provoke revolts.14
He further explained, there was clearly a divergence between the North African jihadists and al-Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan with regard to the strategies for the jihad. Indeed, he explained that during a meeting in Herat in the late 1990s to coordinate their jihad with Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Walid Al Ansari, and Abu Hafs Al Misri, all leaders of al-Qaeda, Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri presented their strategy of the internationalization of al-Qaeda — the global jihad and striking the far enemy. However, he explained that the North African jihadists, and in this case the TICG, argued in favor of local jihads and expected the Tunisians Afghans who had received military training in the al-Qaeda camps to return to their home country to fight the Ben Ali regime.15 He further explained that this resulted in a rift between the jihadists with regard to both the local and the global jihad — and the purpose of the jihad for the TICG in case there were a political opening for the Islamist parties — and the possibility of participating in a political process that would render jihad pointless. He further explained that among those who were present at this meeting and opposed to this approach was the young and unknown Abu Mossaab Al Zarqawi, founder of what became ISIS, who totally rejected the electoral option to establish a state based on Islamic principles. For this former leader of the TICG, on the other hand, "if a political sphere for political Islam was opened, then there would be no need to resort to violence."16
All in all, the TICG remained weak during the 1990s and 2000s, compared to the Algerian Islamic Armed Group (GIA) and later AQIM, or to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Indeed, whereas thousands of Algerians and Libyans went to Afghanistan, the number of Tunisians never exceeded 400. Therefore, there was no critical mass that could support the TICG in Tunisia. Nonetheless, while supposedly against the international strategy of al-Qaeda, they actively participated in the jihad in Iraq, Chechnya, Bosnia and other places. For example, one of the most famous jihadi commanders in Bosnia, known for carrying a sword with him was Salman Al Farsi, a Tunisian who died fighting there.17 Worse, the TICG was directly involved in the murder of the famous Commander Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, who resisted the Taliban and died in a suicide bombing committed by two people sent from Belgium. Also, the first post-9/11 attack linked to al-Qaeda occurred against the Synagogue of Djerba in April 2002.18 Maaroufi, leader of the TICG, was also implicated in planned attacks against the U.S. embassy in Paris. We can also cite Sami Essid bin Khamis, considered the leader of al-Qaeda cells in Italy and implicated in a failed plot to blow up the cathedral in Strasbourg, France.19
In fact, as a result of the war on terror launched after the 9/11 attacks, many of these Tunisian jihadists were arrested and/or captured abroad and then expelled to Tunisia, where they were jailed. Among them were Maaroufi, Ben Hassine and Essid (in the late 2000s). In prison, members of the TICG were jailed alongside former members of Asad ibn al-Furat's Army but also with hundreds of young people wrongly accused of jihadi activities in the country.20 By 2011, according to Michael Ayeri, there were close to 2,500 people in prison who were linked to jihadi activities. However, he explains, "Out of these 2,500, 1,000 were really linked to jihadi organizations at various levels, starting from the leaders such as Maaroufi and Abu Iyadh, down to simple logistic support units, while many of the 1,500 others were not really linked to jihadism."21 However, many of those in jail who were unjustly accused of terrorism eventually joined the jihadists, creating this critical mass of 2,500 men. They would play a pivotal role in the rise of jihadism after the fall of the Ben Ali regime. It is in prison as well that jihadi leaders such as Maaroufi, Abu Iyadh, Ahmed Rouissi, Al Khatib Al Idrissi, and Salim Al Gantri (aka Abu Ayoob Al Tounsi) started to think about the next steps for the Islamist movement in Tunisia in order to unite and to give it a more solid, local basis. The fall of Ben Ali in the wake of the Arab Spring would allow them to put their new ideas in motion.
ANSAR AL SHARIA
The Arab Spring and the collapse of the Ben Ali regime "reshuffled the deck completely" for the Islamist movement in Tunisia. Indeed, during the revolution, in the context of the security vacuum, hundreds of prisoners escaped from jail, including those jihadists. Moreover, shortly after the establishment of a new regime, a general amnesty was declared for all the political prisoners, including Islamists. The newly recreated Ennahda party called for the liberation of political prisoners, including members of the TICG and of the Asad ibn al-Furat's Army.22 Furthermore, as Michael Ayari explains, "Others who were in exile, including people accused of jihadism, returned."23 Indeed, the Tunisian authorities estimated in 2012 that around 500 of these returning Islamists had received military training abroad, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq.24 Those salafi jihadists, taking advantage of the new political situation, formed various political organizations in order to enter the political arena. Among them were Jabhat Al Islah, led by Mohammed Khouja, a former member of the TICG; Al Asala (authenticity), led by Muldi Mujahid; and the Al Rahma party, led by Sayd al-Jaziri, who was and active radical salafi preacher, although not a former jihadist.25 However, it is within the newly formed organization Ansar Al Sharia of Tunisia (AST), created in April 2011, that most of those former jihadists gathered under the leadership of Abu Iyadh Al Tounsi, co-founder of the TICG.
AST emerged in order to unite radicals. It was formed of several tendencies that held different views on the future of Tunisia. Michael Ayeri points out that AST was essentially composed of Abu Iyadh Al Tounsi's supporters, who wanted the organization to serve as a backbone for a future jihad with what he calls the Maqdissist tendencies (that is, those radical salafi jihadists following a quietist strategy based on daawa (the preaching method) and inspired by the ideas of the Jordanian ex-jihadi leader Abu Muhammad Al Maqdissi.26 As a matter of fact, this was perfectly in line with the declarations of the al-Qaeda leadership, which fully endorsed the Arab Spring. Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a declaration in September 2011, talked about "the blessed Arab revolution [that] has removed Hosni Mubarak, America's and Israel's strategic treasure, and Zain al-Abideen Ben Ali, their loyal agent, and is shaking the pillars of the other members of the puppet club." He argued that those revolts expressed the fact that "the Arab peoples want Islam and its rule... and to establish an Islamic state in Tunisia that supports Muslims and Mujahideen." He further added that "the free, honorable, and zealous Muslims in Tunisia must lead an advocating, encouraging, popular campaign that unites the nation and that will not stop until sharia in Tunisia becomes the source of legislation, and rejects any articles that oppose it from the constitution and the law."27 In this declaration, Ayman Al-Zawahiri did not call necessarily for the overthrowing of the new Tunisian regime but rather to continue the process that had started with the overthrow of Ben Ali through a process of political activism and the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic State, with AST serving this purpose.
Accordingly, as explained by a former jihadi leader who knew Abu Iyadh, "He was close to Abu Kamal (another radical jihadi leader) and in his early days in London he was also close to Al Jamaa Al Islamiya Al Tounsiya; also, he had been influenced strongly by the radical ideas, takfiri ideas, of Abu Qutada Al Filistini." He further stated that he had met Abu Iyadh in 2012: "I tried to convince him to create a political party in Tunisia; however, he was against this. He was still influenced by radical ideas, and his lack of political experience was obvious. He was against dawaa and politics. He was following Hanbalism."28 In that respect, Abu Iyadh received important support from jihadi thinkers, including Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, one of the most prominent jihadi thinkers of al-Qaeda, who published a pamphlet in 2012 titled We Are Ansar Al Sharia, calling on Muslims to establish branches of the organization in their countries based on the model of those in Tunisia and Libya.29 AST received support from Abu Sad al-Amili, one of the most important jihadi thinkers of al-Qaeda. Al Amili praised "the challenge AST posed to Tunisia's ‘false' government."30 According to Georges Fahmi and Hamza Meddeb, Ansar al-Sharia was an aggregate of three generations of Tunisian jihadists formed from (1) those who went to Afghanistan in the 1990s, (2) those who went to Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. intervention, and (3) youth who had joined the organization after the 2011 revolutions, attracted by social action and jihadist ideology.31 In that regard, Habib Sayyah explains, "Clearly, Abu Iyadh presented AST as a salafi jihadi organization, by systematic references to Al Maqdissi as well as to his mentor Abu Qutada Al Filistini."
However, those salafi jihadists were different from their predecessors and had learned from the failure of al-Qaeda-linked organizations and movements of the 1990s and 2000s. As Haim Malka and Margo Balboni explained, this led to the emergence of what they call a "hybrid salafi-jihadism" that completely endorsed the ideas of al-Qaeda's violence while "focusing on the social and political issues to reach a more mainstream audience."32 In fact, this reflected a debate within the Tunisian radical galaxy at the time: Should Tunisia be a land of jihad or daawa? According to Habib Sayyah, for AST, and under the influence of the ideas of Al Maqdissi, the focus was to be on daawa, especially since Maqdissi considered that this could be a first step towards jihad.33 Sayyah argues that Al Maqdissi considered daawa as almost a prerequisite for jihad and, to that extent, the ultimate goal was to have Tunisia eventually become a land of jihad. As such, AST saw the political transition and its activities as an intermediary step, the goal of which was to prepare and mobilize Tunisian society for the ultimate step: jihad.34 As Fahmi and Meddeb note, "While some of the salafi jihadists who formed Ansar Al Sharia previously believed in the need for armed struggle to establish an Islamic state, the Arab Spring led them to change their tactics and to focus instead on preaching religious ideology to prepare the ground for an Islamic state."35
Also, by taking advantage of the security vacuum and the new political freedoms after the collapse of Ben Ali's rule, AST quickly expanded its activities all over Tunisia in order to rally the masses. As Habib Sayyah describes it, "AST adopted, before anything else, a political discourse that posited the organization as a political challenger, an anti-system organization, while the other political formations including the Islamists of Ennahda entered the political game in a context of general disappointment, especially from the youth, toward the post-Ben Ali regime and its political parties."36
AST tried to answer those criticisms of the youth and to compete with the state by targeting the weakly governed institutions, such as education and social services, and providing such things as Quranic schools and medical caravans in areas where there was little, if any, medical infrastructure.37 AST members were showing up in those areas in convoys full of medical supplies, food, water, etc., especially in the region of Kairouan.38 As Habib Sayyah explains, "They responded to the demands that the state was not answering and thus they created a sort of alternative governance."39 This allowed AST to mobilize several segments of the society in its favor. More than that, according to Sayyah, Ennahda had created a demand for sharia by stating, during the electoral campaign prior to the elections of the constituent national assembly of 2011, that there was the possibility of introducing sharia and that it was the solution. However, once in power, in April 2012, Ennahda announced that it would not insert sharia into the constitution. This double move led to a severing of ties with several segments of its electorate, especially the most radical one, and paved the way for AST. In fact, as early as May 2011, Samir Dilou, the spokesman for Ennahda, had clearly stated, "We don't want a theocracy in Tunisia. We want a democratic state. The people have to decide on their own how to live. We are not an Islamist party but rather an Islamic Party." The 2012 decision not to introduce sharia only precipitated the breakup between Ennahda and AST. Furthermore, Mohammed Rejeb Iqbal, responsible for an NGO fighting against extremism, violence, the security vacuum, and weaknesses of the state during this period (2011-13), has stated, "AST had state authorizations; they deliberately let AST act in such ways, especially in the region of Kairouan, where, besides its social activities, AST conducted combat demonstrations; they had their black flags of jihadist organizations hanging in total impunity."40 This implies that there was a deliberate strategy on the part of the authorities to let AST expand. In the opinion of Michael Ayari, however, "Ennahda tolerated AST because they feared in those early days a counterrevolution; Ennahda wanted to politically exploit AST and its ability to mobilize, to prevent such occurrences."41
However, in spite of this political activism, AST was divided into several mainstream factions, each with its own vision of what the purpose of the organization should be. Indeed, for Abu Iyadh, the founder of AST, this organization was to be a political one oriented towards the preparation for the jihad, a sort of Tunisian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) modeled on the Algerian FIS of the 1990s.42 On the other hand, Khatib Al Idrissi, a prominent Tunisian salafi thinker and not formally a member of AST, preferred to preach, to Islamize the society and to support jihad in Syria, not in Tunisia.43 For Al Idrissi, Tunisia was to be a land of daawa first and foremost rather than jihad. According to Aaron Zelin, "While he [Al Idriss] promoted and sympathized with the global jihadist cause, he was more interested in the intellectual and scholarly aspects of the movement rather than joining the battlefield."44
Those factions coexisted between 2011 and '13, with the apparent support, or at least tolerance, of the authorities. However, Islamist violence increased dramatically during this time. Indeed, bars were being attacked while Islamist students occupied the University of Manouba. Worse, Tunisia witnessed a wave of assassinations against intellectuals, including Chokri Belaid, a respected intellectual and lawyer. Furthermore, the attack against the U.S. embassy in September 2012, in the context of an ongoing and increasingly violent Islamist war led by AQIM along the border with Algeria, increased the climate of violence while the number of Tunisian volunteers for the jihad in Syria increased. The Tunisian authorities finally decided to react in mid-2013, cracking down on Islamist radicals and disbanding the AST. Its leader was chased by the police and arrested while military operations were launched against AQIM in the Chaambi Mountains. The government had finally closed the permissive environment that had allowed the organization to expand. However, those members of AST who escaped the repression were well-versed in jihad. Tunisia had plunged into uncertainty and violence.
RISE OF TUNISIAN JIHAD
The advent of jihadism in Tunisia did not start with the dissolution of AST in 2013 but as early as the collapse of Ben Ali's regime in 2011. Indeed, while Tunisia did not witness a state collapse, unlike Libya, there was a weakening of the security apparatus as a result of the revolution. This in turn created a permissive environment for the emergence of jihadi organizations in the country. One of the paradoxes of the Tunisian jihad is that, while Tunisia had to face a double constraint (domestic jihadi organizations as well as the phenomenon of Tunisian fighters in Libya and Syria), the most dangerous was externally induced: the phenomenon of these Tunisian foreign fighters. Over 4,000 young men went to Syria and Iraq, making Tunisia the country with the highest number of foreign fighters in the world. On the other hand, the local jihadi organizations in Tunisia itself were comparatively weaker. However, under this double pressure, the Tunisian democratic transition was dangerously threatened by 2015.
AQIM and the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade
As early as January 2011, Abdelmalek Droukdal (aka Abu Mosssab Abdel Wadoud, supreme leader of AQIM) greeted the Tunisian revolution, posting a video message in which he offered "our support and comfort as well as our help in your distress and uprising." In this message, he went so far as to offer military training to those who desired it and threatened massive retaliation against those who committed acts of torture under the Ben Ali regime.45 Shortly after the fall of Ben Ali, Droukdal sent several of his most trusted men to Tunisia, among them Lokman AbuSakhr, to launch a jihad. Together with Tunisian jihadists, they created the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, affiliated directly with AQIM.
In May 2011, the first clashes between this brigade and the Tunisian security forces took place, near the city of Rouhia in northwest Tunisia. This signaled the beginning of jihadi violence in the country. A Tunisian official explained that the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade was essentially concentrated in the Chaambi mountains area, in addition to the region of Mount Salloum and Samama, on the Algerian border, led by Algerians with some local support.46 Okba Ibn Nafaa also had some branch operations in the regions of El Kef and Mount Meghila.47 Between 2011 and 2012, this violence remained in the form of low-intensity attacks. It was not until late in 2012 that it increased dramatically both in the number of attacks and their intensity. Furthermore, this brigade had expanded starting in 2013 after the dissolution of AST. In fact, the repression against this organization in 2013 led not to the dismantling of its networks but rather to their incorporation into the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade and the nascent ISIS groups in Tunisia. Indeed, those networks supplied both organizations with men and money, to the point where they became the object of a competition and eventually were absorbed by them.48
Therefore, strengthened by men from AST, the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade stepped up its attacks beginning in 2013, causing many deaths, especially among security services. One of the most notable was the March 2015 attack on the Bardo Museum; 21 western tourists were killed. More generally, this brigade multiplied its effects using rocket-propelled launchers, ambushes, and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) — all bear the hallmarks of AQIM and its combat methods.49 In spite of all this, one of the major problems for the brigade was that most of the young Tunisians aspiring to jihad were attracted by those in Syria, Iraq and even Libya rather than in Tunisia itself. This, in turn, considerably limited its ability to expand to the rest of the country. In that regard, in March 2013, Droukdal sent a message to the Tunisian candidates for the jihad, exhorting them to stay in their country to fight in order to prevent what he called "the possible return of secularism and of Ben Ali."50
Shortly after this message, in an attempt to be more assertive and attract the youth from AST, AQIM issued a direct threat to the Tunisian authorities that were prohibiting AST from holding a congress in Kairouan. Indeed, Ahmed Abu Abdullah Al Djazairi, spokesman for AQIM, argued that, while his organization would not attack the political regimes that emerged following the Arab Spring, they would not hesitate to retaliate if they attacked the Islamists, in this case the post-Ben Ali regime. He also announced that the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade was not Algerian nor under the leadership of AQIM, but rather a local Tunisian jihadi organization. The purpose of this affirmation was to make sure this brigade would not appear as a foreign organization attacking their country, but rather as a Tunisian organization, and thus attract Tunisian volunteers. Those events, coupled with the dissolution of AST, accelerated the upsurge in jihadi violence that struck Tunisia in 2014 and 2015.51
Furthermore, beginning in March 2013, the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade started receiving reinforcements from AQIM jihadists fleeing the Sahel after the launching of the French-led operation "Serval" in northern Mali.52 Well trained and armed, they proved to be a major asset for the brigade. Facing them were the ill-prepared and ill-trained Tunisian security forces. Thus, AQIM was able to inflict heavy losses and destabilize the country — without, however, being able to solidify its local anchoring there.
In spite of the declaration that the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade was a Tunisian organization fighting for Islam in Tunisia, it received little support from the local population. The attempt to gain sympathy by focusing its attacks on the Tunisian security services while avoiding civilian casualties, so as not to alienate the local population, proved to be useless. In fact, it was counterproductive, as most of the population not only rejected this ploy but were supportive of the security services.53 In the end, by 2016, as one Tunisian official explained,
AQIM in Tunisia, and to that extent the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, has remained overall weak. This terrorism has never territorialized itself and has remained essentially a terrorism of networks. By this we mean that we do have an insurrectional presence in the Chaambi mountains, but not a solid implantation in Tunisia as a whole.... They are essentially networks and cells.54
He added that this brigade never exceeded 200 to 300 men, in spite of all its efforts, largely due to its inability to attract the Tunisian youth, who were then more tempted by the jihad in Syria-Iraq. The emergence of ISIS in the country and neighboring Libya only further reduced the attractiveness of AQIM to those candidates for the jihad.
Indeed, the emergence of ISIS in 2014 in the Middle East directly impacted jihadi organizations in North Africa, whether in Algeria, Libya or Tunisia. Several of these split along al-Qaeda-ISIS lines, between those who decided to remain loyal to Ayman Al-Zawahiri and those who decided to pledge their allegiance to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. Jihadi organizations were also hit by this movement.
ISIS Affiliates in Tunisia
Shortly after the proclamation of a caliphate by ISIS in June 2014, the Shabab Al Tawhid, a Tunisian organization created in March of the same year and composed of former supporters of AST, proclaimed its support and allegiance to ISIS.55 Based in Kairouan, and proclaiming to be the Kairouan Islamic Emirate of Tunisia,56 this organization was essentially posting on its website, among other things, the preaching of Abu Saad Al-Amili, one of the most important ISIS provocateurs.57 However, it never turned out to be more than a "virtual phenomenon" in scope.
In contrast, the most dangerous ISIS-affiliated organization in Tunisia was Jund Al Khilafa (Soldiers of the Caliph). According to one Tunisian official,
Jund Al Khilafa was essentially concentrated in the area of Kesserine and directly linked to the Algerian Jund Al Khilafa branch, itself an ISIS affiliate. Originally an Algerian-led organization, the Tunisians eventually took over Jund Al Khilafa's resources, which came mostly from Algeria.58
More specifically, Jund Al Khilafa stemmed from a split within the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade between those who wanted to remain faithful to al-Qaeda and those who wanted to join ISIS. The men of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade who were in Kairouane and Kesserine were more inclined to join ISIS and thus pledged their allegiance to it. Michael Ayeri argues in this regard, "Jund Al Khilafa has to be seen as an emancipation from the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade; it is an ISIS affiliate led by Tunisians differing from the brigade."59
However, while the rise of ISIS in the Middle East led to major confrontations between this organization and Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria), this was not the case in Tunisia. Indeed, Jund Al Khilafa stated clearly, in a communiqué shortly after its proclamation, that other jihadi organizations, including AQIM, were not its enemies and condemned the calls against dialog between fellow jihadi organizations. To that extent, the split did not mean ending contacts or becoming rivals.60
Finally, Habib Sayyah notes the presence of what he describes as recruitment terrorist cells, autonomous from each other while pledging allegiance to ISIS. They are active in urban areas and in some universities; three such university cells were dismantled as recently as the first semester of 2018.61 Michael Ayari explains that these cells essentially play a logistical role in the sense that "they provide caches, hide food and weapons, and are waiting for the general uprising."62 According to him, these cells try to conduct some actions but are very weak and under constant surveillance by security services. For him, the purpose and composition of these cells remains nebulous and in any case their impact on the security situation was limited.63
Overall, these local Tunisian jihadi organizations, whether affiliated with al-Qaeda or ISIS, have remained very weak and have rarely exceeded 200 members. To Michael Ayeri, one of the reasons for this was the lack of a powerful and well-structured radical Islamist party that could have supported the jihadists, as the FIS had done in Algeria in the 1990s, and could have mobilized large segments of the society. The disbanding of AST, the strength of which could not be compared to that of the FIS, prevented such an occurrence.64 However, when it came to the Tunisian foreign fighters, the situation was reversed. While the local jihadi organizations in Tunisia have always been limited in terms of threat, those foreign fighters have been a major one, especially in the context of the failed Libyan state.
Tunisian Foreign Fighters
For Michael Ayari, there has always been "a fascination and attraction for the Middle East in Tunisian society and, to that extent, there have always been jihadi volunteers; Orientalism has always been strong in spite of the Bourghiba and Ben Ali rulers, who were more oriented toward the West."65 As early as the 1980s, Tunisians started joining the international jihad in Afghanistan, albeit in small numbers, and were essentially assigned to tasks pertaining to logistics and information. The second wave came in the early 2000s with the Iraqi jihad, especially 2003.66 The Ben Ali regime had for a year turned a blind eye on this movement before passing the 2003 anti-terrorist law, which led to a crackdown.67 The third wave came after the fall of Ben Ali, starting from 2011.
As Habib Sayyah explains, there are no definitive figures on how many people left Tunisia to join the jihad in Syria, Iraq and Libya. He argues that the estimate varies between 3,000 and 4,000 going to the Levant68 and at least 1,500 to Libya. The real figures are, according to specialists, most likely much higher.69
Several factors accounted for this dramatic shift. According to Michael Ayari, the security vacuum in the post-Arab Spring, filled partly by AST, played an important role. The feeling of solidarity with other nations going through the same process of revolt, the formation of jihadi networks to help the volunteers, and the ability of radicals to disseminate propaganda in poor suburbs were, according to him, instrumental in this process. Moreover, he explains that the post-Arab Spring period left a sense of disappointment; there was a discrepancy between the political platforms of the post-Ben Ali regime and the discourse of the youth. It was the jihadists who spoke that language.70 For a former Tunisian jihadist, this phenomenon stemmed from "the youth who rejected the Political Islam of Ghenouchi, the leader of Ennahda, while they were also left without any religious guidance, ignorant of Islam, and therefore open to the influence of radical takfiri preaching."71 Iqbal Rajab, head of an NGO fighting radical violence, shares this opinion, attributing the ignorance of Islam among the young largely to the repressive policies of Ben Ali. By cracking down on religious institutions, his regime produced a youth totally ignorant of Islam72 and, therefore, without any defense mechanisms in the face of radical jihadi preachers.
Moreover, the Ennahda party itself played a key role73 in the process, as its leaders, aiming to unify all the Islamist movements under its banner, considered the youth essentially misguided yet reconcilable to its vision of politics and Islam. In this context, Ennahda remained reluctant to confront the salafi-jihadi groups spreading in Tunisia.74 Adding to this, state officials also played a major role by turning a blind eye to radical groups when they did not simply encourage them. Rajab Iqbal cited the cases of Habib Ellouz, a key political figure in Tunisia and a member of Ennahda, who incited Tunisians to go fight in Syria. Even worse was the case of Noureddine Khademi, who as minister of religious affairs, called on young people from the Fath Mosque to go fight,75 arguing that it was "a duty to support our Syrian brothers who were suffering."76
Furthermore, Rajab Iqbal explains that social and economic marginalization played a major role in this phenomenon. For him, the jihadists took advantage of flaws in the society to mobilize and radicalize the youth. According to Iqbal, jihadi organizations manipulated them by giving a sense of value to marginalized youth and by showing them and promising them further respect. In that regard, as Alaya Allani explains, "Salafi jihadists approached those fragile young people; they guided them and reassured them while washing their brains; they made them expect a bright future through their participation in this fight, a fight presented in any case as a just one, since it was ‘the will of God.'"77 Accordingly, departures to the Middle East increased dramatically between 2013 and 2015 and affected all social classes, male and female, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, in addition to a very high number of children and teenagers. However, Iqbal explains that the majority of these candidates for jihad came from the marginalized strata.78 Moreover, in addition to social and economic marginalization, Sayyah Habib firmly believes that the political marginalization and exclusion of the youth by the post-Arab Spring political parties, together with the return of old traditional elites from exile or hiding, played a key role in the dissatisfaction of young people toward the post-Ben Ali regime and their opting for jihad abroad.79 As summarized by a former jihadi,
ISIS and Nusra (al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria) had the means to attract those young Tunisians; the terrain was favorable; they had resources, especially money; and in the context of marginalization, a youth ignorant of religion were used by means of the dangerous concept of al baraa (excommunication) without any real understanding of its meaning: all this together led thousands of young people to join a fight they did not really understand.80
For those jihadists, the enemy was the Tunisian state and the West. They had the impression that Tunisia was actually under the authority of the West (tassalout in Arabic) and that its resources were being exploited through an unbalanced and unequal relationship in which the Tunisian state was the accomplice.81 However, one must note that while those jihadists rejected the national Tunisian narrative of the authorities, they still portrayed themselves as defenders of the Tunisian nation, albeit within the context of a supranational identity and ideology.82
Those thousands of young people who went to Syria and Iraq joined at first the Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. According to Rajab Iqbal, "Many former members of AST, some of them historically linked to al-Qaeda, went to Libya and from there to Syria to join the Nusra Front."83 Many also remained in Libya, among them Abu Iyadh, the founder of AST, who joined the Al Murabitoune jihadi organization affiliated with al-Qaeda and led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Abu Iyadh was killed in Ajdabiya in June 2015 during a U.S. air strike targeting Belmokhtar. However, the emergence of ISIS in the Middle East led to a major reshuffling; most of the Tunisian foreign fighters left the Nusra Front to join ISIS.
In the eyes of those young Tunisian fighters, the radicalism of ISIS was more attractive than Al Nusra, which was deemed as having departed from "the right revolutionary pathway" by compromises and alliances and its involvement in some illegal trafficking. Iqbal Rajeb explains that, from this point of view, the puritanism of ISIS was more attractive to the Tunisian fighters. Habib Sayyah also notes that the former leaders of AST, whether they joined al-Qaeda affiliates or ISIS affiliates, always called for dialog and tried to prevent a breakup between the two sides; they tried not to aggravate any tension, especially on the part of Abu Iyadh. However, by doing this instead of criticizing ISIS, they left the doors open to this organization, which turned out to be more attractive than al-Qaeda. Furthermore, most of the popular young leaders of AST joined ISIS. One of the most important was Kamel Zerrouk (aka Abu Ayoub El Tounsi), the co-founder of AST who went to Syria, where he joined the Jaych al-muhajireen w al-ansar, whose leadership decided to join ISIS, a move he fully endorsed. Very popular at the time of AST, he later encouraged Tunisians to come and join ISIS, thus playing a pivotal role in the migration of Tunisian fighters in Syria and Iraq from Al Nusra to ISIS.84
Abu Yahia Al Tounsi, also a popular member of ISIS, called on Tunisians: "Go train in Libya, in the Wilaya Tarablous (Department of Tripoli) of the Islamic State and expand the Khilafa to Tunisia." 85 For his part, another popular Tunisian leader from AST and a member of ISIS, Abu Mossab Al Tounsi, basically excommunicated al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including AQIM. In a declaration, he explained, "
Only ISIS has an imam that has received the bayaa (allegiance). The dawla (ISIS) is the only one that is right. I was a member of AST, which joined AQIM....I am telling you AQIM and AST are not members of the taefa al mansoura (the victorious community); they have major shortcomings, the dawla has none.86
According to Habib Sayyah, there was intense media competition between al-Qaeda and ISIS; however, ISIS had been able to attract most of the popular leaders of AST, and this led to ISIS becoming more attractive to Tunisians.
Moreover, taking advantage of the instability and insecurity in Libya, as in Syria and Iraq, and of the presence of an extremely powerful ISIS affiliate there, Tunisian radicals went to this collapsed neighboring state and started setting up training camps. From Libya, they started launching attacks against Tunisia. Farhat Horchani, then minister of defense, had estimated that over 1,000 Tunisians were fighting alongside ISIS in Libya, constituting a major national threat.87 Thus, they started attacks on the Tunisian-Libyan border, which culminated in June 2015, when a young Tunisian, a member of ISIS returning from Libya, attacked the seaside resort of Sousse, killing 39 tourists. This attack is considered to be the worst in Tunisian history. In November 2015, a suicide bomber in the Tunis city center killed 12 presidential security guards. In addition to jacking up the climate of insecurity, those attacks, targeting Western tourists, had dramatic consequences for the Tunisian economy, which is heavily dependent on the tourism sector and foreign investment. It had already been weakened by the post-Arab Spring instability. Many started to question the ability of the Tunisian authorities and their new democracy to withstand those jihadi assaults in the context of a dire economic situation.
These spectacular attacks, amid the ongoing guerrilla war in the Chaambi Mountain region, climaxed with an assault on the border city of Ben Guerdane, in March 2016, by over 100 ISIS fighters coming from Libya. Their goal was to take control of the city and establish an "emirate" that would spill over into the rest of Tunisia.88 This time, however, the attack was repelled by the direct action of the population. The failed attack marked a turning point: both the authorities and the local populations fought together against jihadi violence and severely defeated ISIS. It was the beginning of the ebb tide of jihadi violence in Tunisia.
COLLAPSE OF TUNISIAN JIHAD
Michael Ayeri considers that, while the 2014-16 period was critical, there was never any kind of widespread support for the jihadists within Tunisian society or even among the Tunisian Islamists themselves, radicals included.89 For him, while the Ennahda party had remained able to keep the support of the majority of Islamist voters, the Maqdissist tendency among the radicals (self-described jihadis) had also remained very strong. Thus, the attractiveness of violent jihad among the radicals themselves was limited.90 In addition, while ISIS enjoyed a positive image among the radicalized youth in 2013-14, this changed with what he calls "the criminalization of the jihad," starting from 2014-15, through their association with criminal networks and the "quality of the recruits," often former criminals who had recently converted to salafi jihadism. While the perception of ISIS changed gradually and dramatically, the violence of its attacks made it seem like a "counterrevolutionary" organization; thus young people rejected it.91 For Ayeri, these factors taken together led to a dramatic decrease in recruitment from 2016 onward.
For its part, the Tunisian government, supported by its regional allies and the international community, reacted very late. Starting from the end of 2014, however, its decisions were swiftly implemented and turned out to be efficient. Declaring a state of emergency, the authorities closed the border with Libya immediately and decided to build a "protective wall" there. In practice this meant obstacles, trenches and a modern movement-detection system. Houda Mzibet, a Tunisian expert on Libya, explains, "This wall, built with Western support, played a major role in gradually restoring security and considerably reduced the infiltration of jihadists coming from Libya, which have now become a rarity."92 The government also collaborated with the Libyan transitional government (GNA), Libyan tribes living close to the borders, and local Libyan militias to secure this area. For Huda Mzioudet, those militias and tribes, especially the Zouarates tribe, played a pivotal role in improving border security.93 She further explains that, since the GNA is somehow close to Fajr, Libya, and therefore somehow connected to the Muslim Brotherhood of Libya, this facilitated contacts and cooperation with Tunis. The Ennahda party, being themselves of the Muslim Brotherhood, had strong relations with their Libyan counterparts. This played an important role in convincing the GNA to take appropriate measures to secure the borders.94 At the same time, a new anti-terrorist law was passed in 2015 expanding the definition of terrorism; from then onward, joining a terrorist organization abroad would be a criminal offense. It also increased pre-trial periods of detention). Furthermore, 150 associations were suspended and another 157 banned for collusion with jihadists. The monitoring of religious fraternizing, in order to prevent the spread of jihadi ideas, was established, as was the reinforcement of controls over social media, extensively used by jihadists to spread their ideas and attract recruits.95
Several agreements were signed with France and the United States, including the delivery of weapons and training, as well as surveillance equipment.96 In that regard, the decision by the United States to elevate Tunisia to the status of "major non-NATO ally" facilitated Tunis's acquisition of advanced defensive equipment. The United States also established a military surveillance facility (drones in Tunisia) and signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signaling a kind of strategic partnership between the two countries. To that extent, the United States showed total support for the Tunisian authorities.
Cooperation with Algeria likewise helped to secure the country. As one Algerian official explained, "We played a key role in preventing Tunisia from collapsing by providing them with information, training their troops, given our experience in fighting against terrorism, and a high level of cooperation."97 Indeed, this cooperation started as soon as terrorism emerged in Tunisia in 2011 with the attacks of the the Okba Ibn Naafaa Brigade. Houda Mzibet explains that Algeria had greatly helped in securing the country, given its experience from the 1990s civil war. As such, Algiers provided training to the Tunisian special forces and shared intelligence, especially since at some point the Algerian-Tunisian border was considered to be more porous than the one with Libya. In that context, as early as 2013, the Algerian and Tunisian armies established a military commission in charge of preventing terrorist infiltrations and all kinds of trafficking.
In addition, Algeria deployed close to 12,000 members of its security services (army, gendarmerie, border guards, etc.) on the Tunisian border and reinforced its means of communication as well as aerial surveillance. In parallel to this deployment, the Algerian army intensified its operations against jihadi organizations in Algeria, combined with similar initiatives on the part of the Tunisian Army.98 In May 2014, a security agreement was also signed that included the coordination of military operations by both countries against jihadi organizations and reinforced intelligence sharing on jihadi movements.99 Furthermore, and less known but very important, the Algerian Army was directly involved in military operations in Tunisia itself, alongside the Tunisian Army in the Chaambi Mountains against the Obka Ibn Nafaa Brigade. This was based on a secret clause of the May 2014 agreement.100
These measures had their intended effects. In March 2015, Lokman AbuSakhr, commander of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, was killed, as was his successor, Abu Soufiane Essoufi, in April 2017. Dozens of members of this brigade and Jund Al Khilafa were also captured or killed after massive military operations launched by Tunisian security services. In the words of one Tunisian official, "Since late 2017 and early 2018, these groups can be considered a nuisance, conducting very low-intensity guerrilla warfare; in fact, one might call this ‘intermittent terrorism' as they lack everything in terms of supplies, whether food or medicine."101 Contained and defeated, the local jihadi organizations in Tunisia are perceived as much less dangerous than the problem of the Tunisian foreign fighters who went to Syria and Iraq, as well as those who are in Libya and might be tempted to return to their country now that ISIS has been defeated.
However, in the context of the collapse of ISIS in the Middle East and the persistent critical situation in Libya, a failed state, the issue of the returnees poses a major threat to Tunisian national security. Past experiences, especially of the Arab Afghans from the 1980s in Algeria and Libya, who started uprisings in the wake of their return to their home countries, are still fresh memories. Furthermore, as Mohammed Hafez (2009) and Daniel Byman (2015) explain, the jihads of Afghanistan and Iraq show that these returnees present a major threat. They have acquired radical ideological training, firsthand combat experience and ties to international networks, making them potentially dangerous. They could be a threat if they join existing jihadi organizations in Tunisia itself, with which they could share their expertise. Many Tunisian security officials draw a parallel with what happened in Algeria in the 1990s, when the "Algerian Afghans" returned and mixed with local jihadists, leading to the creation of the fearsome GIA, the ancestor of AQIM.
An estimated 800 jihadists have returned to Tunisia and are either in jail or under heavy surveillance.102 To this number one must add all those who have been detained by the Syrian authorities and hundreds of others who died during the fighting there.103 We should also take into account those who will choose to stay in the Middle East and fight until the end. The figures of those likely to return to Tunisia are difficult to ascertain but represent a major threat if they return without the knowledge and surveillance of the security services. As an official explains, the hypothesis of "undetected returnees" joining the Obkba Ibn Nafaa Brigade or ISIS cells is a very real danger.
A similar threat is presented by these returnees who decide to go to Libya, a stateless country plagued by the presence of powerful jihadi organizations. They could coalesce with such organizations in Libya and strengthen them. However, according to an expert on these issues, the possibility of a massive migration of jihadists from the Middle East to Libya is unlikely: "Most of those returnees will presumably prefer to return to their home countries and surrender or stay there [in the Middle East] and die fighting."104 However, this expert does point out another more dangerous risk, if a small number of battle-hardened and radicalized jihadists escaped to Libya and joined their fellow jihadi organizations. For him, these would be more dangerous, as they would be difficult, if not impossible, to detect. He explains that this has likely happened already, as we have witnessed several attacks in the Sahel by jihadi organizations using techniques observed in the Middle East. This could pose a major threat to Tunisia. In that context, the Tunisian official we interviewed explains that while the homegrown jihadi groups in Tunisia have been contained, the danger now comes from Libya with the possible rapprochement between ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the context of the return from the Middle East.105 As of 2017, several unverified rumors of cooperation between al-Qaeda brigades and retreating ISIS fighters in southern Libya have emerged, as well as in the north, in the area of Bani Walid.106 The possibility of such an event is high: threatening but aborted attempts have taken place in the Sahel for a rapprochement between the Jamaa Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM, Group to Support Islam and Muslims), an affiliate of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Grand Sahara (ISGS), affiliated with ISIS. For the time being, however, no such thing has happened, and terrorism in Tunisia by all accounts has been defeated.
After a dangerous period between 2014 and 2016, Tunisia has been able to curb the rise of jihadist organizations. Today it remains the only country where a successful democratic transition has been achieved in the post-Arab Spring era. Massively supported by Tunisians, and helped by its allies, Tunisia has been able to successfully defeat them. However, many problems remain. As Houda Mzioudet explained,
Tunisia has considerably strengthened itself since 2015-2016. Nonetheless, the situation remains fragile and the future uncertain. Among those issues, marginalization and economic problems, which caused the rise of jihadists, remain very high. Libya is still extremely unstable and poses a major security concern for Tunisia.107
Furthermore, as argued by Lisa Watanabe and Fabien Merz, the dismantling and banning of all organizations that were spreading the salafist jihadi ideology among the youth may have reduced the ability of jihadists to recruit people, but it did not solve the problem of spreading ideology via the net.108
Not much has been done to counter this ideology, especially in the area of education. Indeed, Rajjeb Iqbel explains,
One of the major problems in Tunisia is that the state has neither a clear program for de-radicalization nor for the prevention of radicalism. Furthermore, there is no program for rehabilitation nor for the reintegration of returnees.109
To deal with this, one of the options would be to strengthen cooperation between a very active civil society, including religious groups and government officials, to counter the spread of extremism. This would be beneficial, especially now that many young Tunisian foreign fighters are returning and surrendering to the authorities. Their testimonies on ISIS violence and extremism, broadcast through media channels, have played a major role in reducing the attractiveness of jihad among the youth. The most emblematic case has been the return and arrest of Abu Ayoub Al Tounsi, one of the most famous Tunisians to have joined ISIS; he has now returned and is in jail. Finally, a policy of reconciliation coupled with efficient measures to curb social and economic marginalization in the context of democratic institutions could definitely curb terrorism.
1 Interview with Michael Ayeri, director of International Crisis Group in Tunisia, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
3 Interview with a government official, Algiers, Algeria (January 2015).
4 Kaeper Rekawek, Not Only in Syria? The Phenomenon of Foreign Fighters in a Comparative Perspective (IOS Press, 2017), 101
5 Interview with a former jihadist of the TICG, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
7 Interview with Habib M Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
10 Watanabe Lisa and Fabien Merz. "Tunisia's Jihadi Problem and How to Deal With It". Middle East Policy 24, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 137.
11 Mathieu Guidère, Al Qaida à la Conquête du Maghreb (Edition du Rocher, 2007), 229.
12 Interview with Habib M Sayyah, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
13 Interview with a former jihadist of the TICG, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
17 Jean Pierre Filiu. Les frontières du Jihad (Paris: Les edition Fayard, 2006), 271.
18 Mathieu Guidère, Al Qaida à la Conquête du Maghreb (Paris : Edition du Rocher, 2007), 215.
19 Aaron Zelin, "ICSR insight: The Tunisian-Libyan jihadi connection," ICSR Report, 2017, http://icsr.info/2015/07/icsr-insight-tunisian-libyan-jihadi-connection/
20 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
23 Interview with Michael Ayeri, director of International Crisis Group in Tunisia, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
24 Malka Haim and Margo Balboni, "Tunisia: Radicalism abroad and at home, the domestic context," Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2016, http://foreignfighters.csis.org/tunisia/domesticcontext.html
25 Lisa Watanabe and Fabien Merz. "Tunisia's Jihadi Problem and How to Deal With It". Middle East Policy 24, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 137
26 Joas Wagemakers , A Quietist Jihadi: The Ideology and Influence of Abu Muhammad Al Maqdissi (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Chapter Three.
27 Ayman al-Zawahiri, "Dawn of the Imminent Victory: Ten Years after the "Blessed Tuesday" Battles," (Flashpoint Partners, September 11, 2011), https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/al-qc481_idah-the-dawn-of-im….
28 Interview with a former jihadist of the TICG, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
29 Aaron Zeilin, "Know Your Ansar Al Sharia," Foreign Policy, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/21/know-your-ansar-al-sharia/
30 Ross Daveed Gartenstein, "Ansar al-Sharia, Tunisia's International Connections," International Center for Counter Terrorism, 2013, https://icct.nl/publication/ansar-al-sharia-tunisias-international-conn…
31 Fahmi Georges and Hamza Meddeb. "Market for Jihad: Radicalization in Tunisia," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2015, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/CMEC_55_FahmiMeddeb_Tunisia_final_oc…
32 Haim Malka and Margo Balboni, "Tunisia: Radicalism Abroad and At Home, the Domestic Context," Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2016, http://foreignfighters.csis.org/tunisia/domesticcontext.html
33 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
35 Fahmi Georges and Hamza Meddeb, "Market for Jihad: Radicalization in Tunisia, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2015, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/CMEC_55_FahmiMeddeb_Tunisia_final_oc….
36 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
40 Interview with Mohammed Iqbel Ben Rejeb, founder of Rescue Association of Tunisians Trapped Abroad, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
41 Interview with Michael Ayeri, director of International Crisis Group in Tunisia (March 2018).
44 Aaron Y. Zelin, Andrew Lebovich, and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's Tunisia Strategy," CTC Sentinel 6, no. 7 (2013).
45 Quand Droukdel, "Imite Ben Laden: La nébuleuse terroriste," Le temps d'Algérie, January 14, 2011.
46 Interview with a Tunisian official close to those issues, Tunis, Tunisia, (March 2018).
47 Interview with Michael Ayeri, director of International Crisis Group in Tunisia (March 2018).
48 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
49 Benjamin Roger, "Tunisie : sur la trace des jihadistes du Mont Chambi," Jeune Afrique, 2013.
50 Aaron Y. Zelin, Andrew Lebovich, and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's Tunisia Strategy," CTC Sentinel 6, no. 7, 2013.
51 Interview with a Tunisian official close to those issues, Tunis, Tunisia, (March 2018).
52 Starting from 2013 and until the death of its leader, Abu Zeid, many members of the Tarek Ibn Ziyyad Brigade escaped to Tunisia and thus reinforced the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade.
53 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
54 Interview with a Tunisian official close to those issues, Tunis, Tunisia, (March 2018).
55 Aaron Y. Zeilin, Shabab al-Tawhid, "The rebranding of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia?" The Washington Institute, 2014, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/shabab-al-tawhi…
56 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Bay'ah to Baghdadi: Foreign Support for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State, Part 2," 2017, http://www.aymennjawad.org/15416/bayah-to-baghdadi-foreign-support-for-…
57 Aaron Y. Zeilin, Shabab al-Tawhid, "The rebranding of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia?" The Washington Institute, 2014, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/shabab-al-tawhi…
58 Interview with a Tunisian official close to those issues, Tunis, Tunisia, (March 2018)
59 Interview with Michael Ayeri, director of International Crisis Group in Tunisia (March 2018).
60 This communique is available on jihadology.com: Ifrīqīyyah Media presents a new statement from Katībat ‘Uqbah Ibn Nāfi': Information, reminders, coded messages, advice, and warning (17 December 2014). https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/katc4abbat-e28098uqbah-ibn-n….
61 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
62 Interview with Michael Ayeri, director of International Crisis Group in Tunisia (March 2018).
68 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
69 Interview with a Tunisian official, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
70 Interview with Michael Ayeri, director of International Crisis Group in Tunisia (March 2018).
71 Interview with a former jihadist of the TICG, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
72 Interview with Mohammed Iqbel Ben Rejeb, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
73 On the role of the authorities during this period of time, see the testimonies of returnees from Daech to Tunisia: https://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/entry/des-terroristes-tunisiens-de-lei-…
74 Haim Malka and Margo Balboni, "Tunisia: Radicalism Abroad and At Home, the Domestic Context," Center for Strategic and Studies, 2016, http://foreignfighters.csis.org/tunisia/domesticcontext.html
75 Interview with Mohammed Iqbel Ben Rejeb, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
76 Haim Malka and Margo Balboni, "Tunisia: Radicalism Abroad and At Home, the Domestic Context," Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2016, http://foreignfighters.csis.org/tunisia/domesticcontext.html
77 Frida Dahmani, "Terrorisme: La Tunisie frappée au coeur…" Jeune Afrique, 2014.
78 Interview with Mohammad Iqbel Ben Rejed, Tunis, Tunisia, March, 2018.
79 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
80 Interview with a former jihadist of the TICG, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
81 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
83 Interview with Mohammed Iqbel Ben Rejeb, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
84 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
85 Aaron Zelin, "Know Your Ansar Al Sharia," Foreign Policy, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/21/know-your-ansar-al-sharia/
86 See the declarations of Abu Mussab Al Tounsi at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvHnfeaBQ9E
87 Cited in "Âge, études, sexe… Quel est le profil des terroristes tunisiens?" Jeune Afrique, October 28, 2016.
88 Syrine Attia. Tunisie : Ben Guerdane, symbole de la guerre contre le terrorisme. Jeune Afrique (March 20, 2018).
89 Interview with Michael Ayeri, director of International Crisis Group in Tunisia (March 2018).
92 Interview with Houda Mzioudet, expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
95 Lisa Watanabe and Fabien Merz. "Tunisia's Jihadi Problem and How to Deal With It," Middle East Policy 24, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 137
96 Rebecca Chaouch, "Tunisie en trois ans: L'aide américaine consacrée à la lutte antiterroriste a été multipliée par trois, " Jeune Afrique, 2017.
97 Interview with an Algerian official close to those issues, Algiers, Algeria (November 2017).
98 Abdennour Benantar, "Sécurité aux frontières: Portée et limites de la stratégie algérienne, " L'Annee du Maghreb 14, (2016): 147-63.
100 See "Attentats en Tunisie: L'engagement de l'armée algérienne," El Watan, August 4, 2015.
101 Interview with a Tunisian official, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
102 Richard Barrett, "Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees," Soufan Center, 2017, http://thesoufancenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Beyond-the-Caliph….
103 Interview with Habib M. Sayyah, consultant and expert on security issues, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
104 Interview with an expert close to those issues (January 2018).
105 Interview with a Tunisian official, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
106 Adam Nathan, "ISIL regrouping in southern Libya with support of al Qaeda and preparing for further attacks," The Daily Telegraph, March 1, 2017.
107 Interview with Houda Mzioudet, expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).
108 Lisa Watanabe and Fabien Merz. "Tunisia's Jihadi Problem and How to Deal With It," Middle East Policy 24, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 137.
109 Interview with Mohammed Iqbel Ben Rejeb, Tunis, Tunisia (March 2018).