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.