al-Bayyāriq Foundation for Media presents a new statement from Anṣār al-Sharī’ah in Tunisia: “Congratulations On the Occasion Of a Blessed Month Of Ramaḍān 1435 H”
Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Anṣār al-Sharī’ah in Tunisia — “Congratulations On the Occasion Of a Blessed Month Of Ramaḍān 1435 H”
To inquire about a translation for this statement for a fee email: firstname.lastname@example.org
al-Bayyāriq Foundation for Media presents a new statement from Anṣār al-Sharī’ah in Tunisia’s Abū ‘Iyāḍ al-Tūnisī: “Inspired By the Conquests of Iraq”
Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Abū ‘Iyāḍ al-Tūnisī — “Inspired By the Conquests of Iraq”
To inquire about a translation for this statement for a fee email: email@example.com
al-Andalus Media presents a new statement from al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib: “Revenge For the Free Tunisia: Targeting the Interior Minister ‘Luṭfī Bin Jiddū'”
Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib — “Revenge For the Free Tunisia- Targeting the Interior Minister ‘Luṭfī Bin Jiddū'”
To inquire about a translation for this statement for a fee email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s Social Media Activity in 2014
By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Oren Adaki
Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST), the country’s foremost salafi jihadist group, has experienced a significant change in fortunes over the past year. A year ago it was able to operate legally in Tunisia, and concentrated primarily on undertaking dawa (evangelism) to win young Tunisians to its cause. However, a rise in violent incidents carried out by salafists caused tensions between AST and the state to spike. Relations between AST and Tunisia reached a point of no return in late July 2013, when in a five-day period secularist politician Mohammed Brahmi was murdered and salafists killed eight members of the security forces, five of whom had slit throats. The government cracked down on the group after those incidents, designating it a terrorist organization, banning its activities, and arresting its members.
AST has been an innovator among jihadist groups in its use of social media. Thus, as it attempts to recover from the blows inflicted upon it by the Tunisian state, its social media activities may provide some important clues. This analysis begins by examining AST’s social media activity related to events in Tunisia before turning to AST’s perspective on issues further afield, such as the Syria jihad. MEMRI has also produced a recent report on AST’s Facebook page that is worth noting.
Rejection of the Terrorism Designation
AST vehemently opposes its designation as a terrorist group by the Tunisian government. Its main line of argument is that the group has humanitarian projects and enjoys the widespread support of other Muslims. A tweet that AST sent from its official account on January 1, 2014 purported to show “what you don’t see in the media about Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia.” It linked to a video of AST’s community service projects, in which the group distributed medical supplies and repaired public infrastructure. The video emphasized in particular very young children (seemingly elementary or middle school age) tackling these service projects while wearing bulky orange vests identifying them as doing this work under AST’s banner.
In a similar vein, on March 10 AST asked in a tweet: “Does Ansar al-Sharia truly frighten the Muslims of this nation?” The tweet included a link to a different video on AST’s community service efforts, including testimonies from sick people whom AST helped. One blurry-eyed old man offering his testimony states that he has diabetes; the camera pans down to reveal that the toes on his left foot have been amputated.
Further making a bid to show the support they enjoy, on February 21 AST tweeted an invitation to participate in their campaign asking “who are my helpers in the cause of Allah,” with participants using the Arabic-language hashtag #Support_for_Ansar_al-Sharia_in_Tunisia.
A graphic promoting the “Who are my helpers in the cause of Allah” public relations campaign, tweeted February 21, 2014.
AST received support from a variety of circles, which the group posted to its Twitter feed. On February 25, it tweeted a photograph of a handwritten sign leaning against an automatic weapon, with a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in the background. The sign reads: “Support for Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia from the soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.”
Another representative photograph posted as part of the campaign, on February 26, featured a handwritten sign held up in front of a Saudi mosque that read: “Support for Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia,” attributing this support to “your brothers from the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” (For more coverage of AST’s “who are my helpers in the cause of Allah” campaign, see MEMRI’s report, referenced above.)
Another aspect of responding to the crackdown has been disseminating anti-government propaganda. Some of this propaganda has been supplied by outside scholars, including Abu Qatada al-Filistini, who has longstanding and deep connections to AST emir Abu Iyad al-Tunisi. Abu Iyad spent time in the United Kingdom, where Abu Qatada was also based, during his exile from Tunisia. Some jihadist forums have portrayed Abu Iyad as Abu Qatada’s “disciple,” and one AST member described Abu Qatada as “probably the most influential” jihadist theorist who has the group’s ear.
On January 21, AST posted a message from Abu Qatada, titled “An Important and Urgent Message to Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia,” to all its social media platforms, including Twitter. Part of Abu Qatada’s message is devoted to attacking Ennahda, the Islamist political party that opted to work through electoral politics. Abu Qatada said that although Ennahda and AST seemingly share a common goal of “establishing Islam,” Ennahda moved in the “direction of the secularists,” and in the course of negotiations over the new Tunisian constitution accepted that sharia would not be the country’s source of law. According to Abu Qatada, Ennahda—which was in power when the crackdown on AST began—went even further astray “in their pursuing you [AST members] and attributing to you false actions that were used as an excuse to chase you and imprison you, and even to kill you.” Abu Qatada said that because Ennahda has allied itself with the secularists, it therefore shares in their judgment and fate.
This graphic was tweeted on January 21, 2014,and includes excerpts about Ennahda from Abu Qatada’s message.
Thereafter, AST continued to press the theme that the Tunisian government had aligned itself with infidelity. On May 10, a tweet and accompanying graphic called on Muslims to fight the “leaders of infidelity,” and argued that Islam’s “powerful ability to protect itself” was the characteristic that would ultimately produce a victory.
On May 20, AST posted a graphic titled “So that the nation will learn…” The accompanying text explained that “we do not label the tyrants infidels, nor do we repudiate them nor antagonize them and their friends due to their imprisoning, torturing, and persecuting us.” Rather, it explained that they label their opponents infidels “due to their imprisonment of monotheism and their detaining the sharia.” This statement reflects AST’s prioritization of its interpretation of sharia: it is unambiguously the most important value for which the group stands, and its suppression is more important to members, according to this statement, than even being subjected to imprisonment or torture.
These statements reflected AST’s understanding of both the general situation that it confronted as well as the clash of values between the group and the government. But some of its statements instead deal with specific incidents, such as “A Word of Truth and an Outcry in the Valley,” which was posted on April 15, addressing a recent raid in Rouhia in which security forces’ raid of a mosque resulted in the arrest of 40 salafists, reportedly including returnees from Syria. AST’s statement is one of solidarity with the arrested salafists, claiming that the group “follows what is occurring to you moment by moment, and we share in your pain and anguish.” Describing the Rouhia raid as one of the “crimes of the tyrannical Tunisian regime,” the statement describes a pattern of “harassment, intimidation, displacement,” as well as “the violation of the sanctity of homes and of women.” The statement calls on the people of Rouhia to hold fast to their beliefs and “be as one hand in confronting the taghut [any person or thing that is worshiped or obeyed instead of Allah, here referring to the Tunisian government] and its soldiers, and make them taste a cup of what they have made you taste.”
One possible AST strategy for winning Tunisians to its side is depending on the security forces’ overreaction to alienate the population, which is a technique often employed by militant groups. The statement on Rouhia suggests that AST has this precise route in mind, as it calls for the people of Rouhia to “open media outlets for yourselves on all available social networks” in order to “cover the attacks of the soldier of the taghut.” AST advises the audience to make haste in doing so, and warns them not to “wait for the media to sympathize with you.”
The Centrality of Sharia
As previously noted, one of AST’s major lines of attack against the government is that it stands against Islam, and has essentially apostatized itself—by agreeing to a constitution that didn’t enshrine Islam as the law of the land, and cracking down on AST. One genre of AST’s social media activity emphasized the importance of sharia and described how laws and governance deriving from anything other than sharia are illegitimate, and nullify one’s Islamic faith.
A January 25 tweet from AST asked: “A constitution made by man?!” It also contained a graphic stating that whoever places man made laws above those of Allah “is undoubtedly an apostate if he insists on doing so and does not revert to rule according to what Allah has revealed.”
A February 22 tweet explored “the consequences of ignoring Allah’s laws.” The tweet included an attached graphic in which Arabic script written on a parchment scroll proclaimed that “a nation that is ruled by anything other than the law of Allah Almighty is a dead nation… The law of Allah gives us life, while the law of man is a deadly, killer poison.”
This graphic, titled “Ignoring Allah’s Law,” was tweeted on February 22, 2014.
On March 1, AST tweeted a graphic titled “Why do they fight the Ansar?” The graphic included excerpts from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) theologian Ibrahim al-Rubaish. “Modern history has proven the intensity of the infidel’s war against those who want to rule by sharia, even if they desire this peacefully,” Rubaish stated. “Therefore the flag of tawhid [monotheism] is only raised upon the skulls of the monotheists, and the land will not be ruled by sharia till it takes its share of the blood of the supporters of sharia [ansar al-sharia].”
On March 5, AST tweeted a graphic stating that “ruling by anything other than what Allah has revealed is infidelity that removes you from the religious community.” A statement by AST emir Abu Iyad al-Tunisi posted on March 23 also advanced this theme. In it, Abu Iyad called AST “the guardians of Allah for this religion.” He summarized AST’s sharia platform with the statement that “it is either Allah and no other but Him, or Allah and others with Him, and this does not please Allah.”
This image of Abu Iyad al-Tunisi was tweeted on March 23, 2014, along with a statement. The text reads “either Allah alone, or Allah and others with Him.”
The Syria Jihad
It is impossible to overstate the impact that the Syrian civil war will have on this generation of jihadists. Given the extremely high number of foreign fighters who have gone to Syria, the Afghan-Soviet war appears to be a comparable event in terms of impact on militants. Both conflicts should be considered first-order humanitarian disasters, justifiably inflaming passions throughout the Muslim world and beyond. Because of the devastation wrought by both wars, the various violent non-state actors who showed up to defend Sunni Muslims against their antagonists gained legitimacy from the clerical class and popularity at the street level. Tunisia’s interior ministry has said that 1,800 Tunisians have now traveled to Syria to fight Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and Syria has been one of the recurrent themes in AST’s social media activity.
On January 14, AST posted Abu Iyad al-Tunisi’s “A Statement of Support for Our Brother Mujahedin in Syria.” Much of the statement was devoted to addressing the infighting between jihadist factions, which he referred to as a fitna. Abu Iyad urged his audience not to judge the primary players in the dispute because “awareness of the circumstances of the dispute is almost nonexistent, nay, nonexistent” given the observers’ “distance from the field.” He said that even for Syria-based jihadist groups who “fell into wrong practices,” that is unsurprising because that phenomenon occurred even in Prophet Muhammad’s time—and further, “the evil deeds of good people are flooded by their good deeds.” He urges his audience that concentrating on the mistakes of certain jihadist groups “and ignoring the good” is an injustice.
Abu Iyad called on respected jihadist figures to issue a ten-point statement to end “the fitna against ISIS.” The points he urged included postponing all arguments until the fitna ended, promising to establish sharia law, using force against “those who made the blood and honor of the muhajirun [meaning “the emigrants,” a reference to foreign fighters] permissible,” and renewing the intentions of jihad. The statement very purposefully explicitly avoids taking sides in the fighting among mujahedin factions, instead urging reconciliation.
In Abu Qatada’s aforementioned January 21 statement, he referred to Tunisians going to fight in Syria as a “blessed matter,” while acknowledging that Abu Iyad has expressed reservations about the phenomenon “so that Tunisia is not left without the call [dawa] and care.” However, Abu Qatada argued that “the goodness in you is much and is enough for both cases.” Abu Qatada also said that it bothered him that some of those who went to fight in Syria “are extreme because of the enthusiasm of youth.” Abu Qatada claimed that “the Ummah requires gentleness.” This appears to be a criticism of ISIS’s brutal tactics, which al-Qaeda’s leadership had spoken out against as a strategic matter; Abu Qatada would later issue more thunderous denunciations of ISIS following its expulsion from al-Qaeda.
On April 11, AST’s social media platforms (along with Shamukh al-Islam Forum and Ansar al-Sharia in Libya) announced the “Jihad Ummah Contest,” which was designed as a “jihadist contest for those unable to reach the land of jihad.” The victors, who would be selected based on being the first to post comments on a jihadist Facebook page, would “win” donations of weapons to mujahedin in “the lands of jihad.” The prizes included a G3 sniper rifle, a Kalashnikov, three hand grenades, and two Kalashnikov magazines.
Though 2014 hasn’t been the most active year for AST’s social media, it has featured plenty of interesting indications of the group’s current outlook and strategy. Continued attention to the group’s social media activity will be worthwhile as it attempts to come back from the government’s crackdown.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and an adjunct assistant professor in Georgetown University’s security studies program. He is the author or volume editor of fourteen books and monographs, including Bin Laden’s Legacy. Oren Adaki is an Arabic language specialist and research associate at FDD specializing in the Arab world.
NOTE: For prior posts in The Clairvoyant sub-blog on Jihadology, you can view an archive of it all here.
Update on Shabab al-Tawhid and Creation of al-Midrar Media
By Aaron Y. Zelin
Twelve days ago, I finished writing my piece on Shabab al-Tawhid as a possible rebranding of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) as well as a network that overlapped with Tunisia’s foreign fighter contingent with Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). It was published online this past Friday. Since I completed writing it, a few things have changed. On the Shabab al-Tawhid front, there have been a number of other Facebook accounts established in different parts of Tunisia as well as a couple in Libya. Further highlighting potential overlap within these networks.
Here are the newest locations that now have dedicated Facebook pages for Shabab al-Tawhid: Tataouine, Djerid, al-Qab’ah, Menzel Bourguiba, Sijoumi, Mahdia, Meknassy, College of Law in Sfax, Kasserine, Bizerte, Science and Technology High School in Sousse, Magel Bel Abbès, Libya (overall), and al-Salmani neighborhood (Benghazi, Libya).
Of course, just because there are a number of accounts in many locations does not tell us anything about the potential support-level in these places, which in conjunction with field research would help better determine. Many of these newer ones also do not have many page follows. It does illustrate though that there is a tight network online invested in spreading this potential rebranding to other areas inside of Tunisia (and to a lesser extent Libya).
With these additions, here is a map that includes these locations along with the original ones, which can help better situate where these networks potentially are trying to be built up inside of Tunisia:
Map 1. Shabab al-Tawhid Facebook network
While it looks as though the Facebook network is expanding, the Twitter account Shabab al-Tawhid Media (STM) has completely transformed. The account that previously went under that name did not delete its account, rather it changed its handle and name to al-Midrar Foundation for Media Production. It also scrubbed all of the content it had previously posted under the STM name and started tweeting again on May 6, pretending as if it was a completely new account. Unlike the STM account, which I explained in my article originally focused on content related to jihad in Tunisia, AST, Tunisia’s foreign fighter network in Syria, and some ISIS content, now it is only posting ISIS-specific and sympathetic content thus far. It should be remembered that this account originally when it used the name STM, its purpose was to be the “pulpit of the Sunni people in Tunisia.” Why the shift? It is difficult to know at this point.
That being said, it is likely that those running the account are still the same individuals that originally it set-up under its original name of STM. Therefore, one might glean something through the new name of the account and try to make sense of it. Al-Midrar means abundant or plentiful. The term is located in three Qu’ranic verses (6:6, 11:52, and 71:11) with the same exact clause in all of them: “He [God] will send [rain from] the sky upon you in abundance.” In the context of these three verses and what was said prior and after this clause in all of the verses, it explains how prophets told the people to repent to God, yet they ignore him. The prophets then invite them to ask for God’s for forgiveness, which they will then get showers of rain and good crops/wealth. Therefore, those behind this account could be implicitly calling for those that have not joined up to their cause yet to repent and if they do, God will forgive them and then they will be rewarded.
Where this will all go for the ST Facebook network or al-Midrar Media is too early to tell. As with a lot of other trends within the broader global jihadi movement things are shifting and evolving rapidly and will likely no more in the coming months to year.
Check out my new ‘Policy Watch’ for the Washington Institute: “Shabab al-Tawhid: The Rebranding of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia?”
Eight months ago, the Tunisian government officially designated Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) as a terrorist organization. Since then, Tunis has cracked down on the group’s activities, going after both its dawa campaign (i.e., proselytization and social-welfare efforts) and any links members have to terrorist plots. On the whole, AST’s public response has been to keep relatively quiet. Yet recent developments indicate that the group may be rebranding itself as Shabab al-Tawhid (ST; the Youth of Pure Monotheism), a shift that would have important implications for efforts to counter Tunisian jihadists and their associates in Libya.
Within a week of the August designation, AST largely ceased releasing updates about its dawa campaign in Tunisia. The group may still be conducting lower-level dawa in rural areas outside the state’s reach, but if so, it is no longer publicizing such activity. The main messages it has put out via its Twitter account have been declarations of solidarity with arrested “brothers,” repeated calls for patience, and quotes from both traditional Islamic sources (the Quran and sunna) and ideological figures (e.g., Ibn Taymiyah, Sayyed Qutb, and Abu Qatada al-Filistini).
Indeed, AST has kept a low profile compared to its modus operandi before the designation; its only prominent announcement was leader Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi’s message of support for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the jihadist group deemed too extreme by senior al-Qaeda leaders and their official Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.
Until recently, this relative silence made it difficult to discern what was going on within AST, but new information indicates it might be rebranding itself under the Shabab al-Tawhid banner in Tunisia as well as Libya, where Abu Ayyad is now believed to be based. This shift could signal to exiled members in Libya that AST’s command structures are increasingly coming under the purview of its sister organization, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL).
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