On May 10-11, Tunisian security services and police launched an unprecedented offensive against local Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST), cracking down on members who were delivering public lectures or passing out their literature on the street. In response, AST leader Sheikh Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi made a veiled threat that youths would defend Islam in Tunisia just as they have in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria — an indirect warning of potential full-blown jihad. Such a development would be a major break from Abu Ayyad’s public strategy over the past two years, in which he has argued that Tunisia is a land of dawa (i.e., proselytizing and associated Islamic outreach activities), not armed jihad. AST’s third annual conference in al-Qayrawan this weekend could help determine if the latest incident becomes a tipping point toward open conflict or an opportunity for both sides to back down.
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