Check out my new article for the Global Network on Extremism & Technology: “How Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s Message Framing Primed Its Members To Become Recruits For The Islamic State”

There are a number of reasons why Tunisians joined the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. One underappreciated aspect of this is the way Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s (AST) messaging primed members of the group and others in society that were exposed to, attended, or followed online AST activities and events. In my new book, Your Sons Are At Your Service: Tunisia’s Missionaries of Jihad, I describe this process, which I will examine in brief here. In particular, I will explore AST’s motivational framing, which “functions as prods to action.” The major themes AST crafted in its narrative was related to brotherhood, the defense of Islam, the creation of an Islamic state, and remaining as an entity.

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New video message from al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib’s Abū Muṣ’ab ‘Abd al-Wadūd (‘Abd al-Malik Drūkdīl): ” The Martyrdom of Our Leaders and Our Brothers … Proof of the Sincerity of Our Call”

Check out my new ‘Policy Watch’ for the Washington Institute: “Tunisia Keeps Calm and Carries On After Latest Terrorist Attack”

On June 27, four years and a day after the Sousse Beach attack, Tunisia suffered twin suicide bombings against security services at two different locations in the capital’s downtown district. Within hours, however, life returned to normal in the city. The government soon highlighted that tourism was unaffected—a far different outcome than the 2015 Sousse attack, which saw mass cancellations by would-be visitors and spurred President Beji Caid Essebsi to claim that “if similar attacks occur again, the state will collapse.”

The North African republic is now far more mature in dealing with security threats related to jihadism; no longer do officials express existential angst, whether legitimate or fear mongering. Compared to 2015, the state and the people were far better prepared to deal with the aftermath of the latest attacks. Yet the growing lack of transparency regarding terrorism arrests and the apparent links to past jihadist mobilizations should draw concern about Tunisia’s broader transition from authoritarian tendencies to democracy and rule of law.

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Also, if you haven’t seen, I did three detailed blog posts about this attack on my website that promotes my forthcoming book:

June 28, 2019: Details on the Two Attacks in Tunis

July 3, 2019: Mastermind of Last Week’s Attack, Ayman al-Samiri, Killed in Hay al-Intilaka

July 3, 2019: Ansar al-Sharia in Hay al-Intilaka

If you like this article and these posts please consider pre-ordering my forthcoming book Your Sons Are At Your Service: Tunisia’s Missionaries of Jihad.

Check out my new peer-reviewed academic journal article in Perspectives on Terrorism: “Not Gonna Be Able To Do It: al-Qaeda in Tunisia’s Inability to Take Advantage of the Islamic State’s Setbacks”

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Abstract

This article examines Katibat Uqba Bin Nafi, al-Qaeda/al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib’s official branch in Tunisia. It sheds light on an unexplored case study on jihadi groups in recent times by investigating its history and forthcoming prospects. Moreover, it plans to use this article as an avenue to weigh in on the debate within jihadi studies on the future of al-Qaeda and if it can take advantage of the Islamic State’s misfortunes in Iraq and Syria as well as Libya. The latter of which has more direct impact on IS’s network in Tunisia. The article interrogates a number of Arabic primary sources that have yet to be surveyed from KUBN and AQIM that will help clarify these inquiries. It will identify shortcomings in KUBN’s capacities and highlight reasons why IS will likely remain a more attractive avenue for jihadi mobilization in Tunisia going forward. This is relevant since much of the debate on AQ’s status analyzes the topic from more of a macro level than looking at specific groups within its broader global network. This research will illustrate that while the consensus might be that AQ is primed to benefit from IS’s setbacks, in the case of Tunisia, unless conditions change locally, KUBN is unlikely to follow the same trend as other AQ branches or when evaluating AQ as a whole.

Click here for the full article (15 pages).

Check out my new ‘Policy Watch’ for the Washington Institute: "Manchester Attack Highlights Foreign Fighters in Libya"


After Libyan British jihadi Salman Abedi killed twenty-two people in Manchester earlier this week, a friend of his noted that he had just returned from a three-week trip to Libya only days before the bombing. Although British investigators have yet to uncover or disclose publicly that the twenty-two-year-old suspect joined the Islamic State or received training while in Libya, his brother reportedly admitted that they were with IS following his arrest earlier today in Tripoli. In addition, IS has claimed responsibility for the bombing, and the French government has since revealed that Abedi traveled to Syria as well, raising concerns that the attack was the group’s first directed operation from Libya into Europe. If so, it reiterates the dangers of foreign fighter training abroad. It also puts the spotlight on the flow of foreign fighters to Libya, which many have understandably ignored due to the even larger flows seen in Iraq and Syria.
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Check out my new ‘Insight’ for the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence: "Between The Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Tunisia"

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Over the past month, there are increasing signs that The Islamic State (IS) intends to build a base and set up a new wilayah (province) in Tunisia in the near future named Wilayat Ifriqiya, a medieval name for the region of Tunisia (as well as northwest Libya and northeast Algeria). This would challenge al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib’s (AQIM) Tunisian branch Katibat ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’s (KUIN) monopoly on insurgency and terrorism since their campaign in Jebel Chambi began in December 2012, opening another front in the broader AQ-IS war. As a consequence, outbidding between these two adversaries could lead to an escalation in violence, with Bardo National Museum style attacks becoming more common.
The Islamic State Signaling in Tunisia
In mid-December last year, IS directed its first overt message to the Tunisian state and its people. Aboubaker el-Hakim (who went by Abu al-Muqatil in the video) claimed responsibility for the assassination of Tunisia’s secular leftist politicians in 2013 – “Yes, tyrants, we’re the ones who killed Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi” – thus confirming the Ennahda-led government’s suspicions that he was was involved. Beyond calling for more violence and for Tunisians to remember its imprisoned brothers and sisters, he also called upon the Tunisian people to pledge bay’a to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to raise the banner of tawhid (pure monotheism) and to rip down the flags of Charles de Gaulle and Napoleon (alluding to the historically close relations between Tunisia and France).
This was followed on April 7th by Abu Yahya al-Tunisi of IS’ Wilayat Tarabulus in Libya, who urged Tunisians to travel to Libya for training in order to establish and extend the writ of IS back at home Only two days later, a new media account, Ajnad al-Khilafah bi-Ifriqiya (Soldiers of the Caliphate in Ifriqiya) Media Foundation, was created. While unofficial, it foreshadowed the targeting of Tunisia in much the same way the establishment of al-‘Urwah al-Wuthqa (The Indissoluble Link) Media foreshadowed the pledge of bay’a given by Boko Haram to IS in March 2015.
Besides IS’ claim of responsibility for the Bardo National Museum attack (which the government actually believes KUIN was responsible for), Ajnad al-Khilafah bi-Ifriqiya Media announced IS’ first claim of responsibility for an insurgent attack in Jebel al-Meghila, near the town of Sbeitla. Additionally, Ajnad al-Khilafah bi-Ifriqiya Media claimed responsibility on April 22 for a separate attack in Jebel Salloum, in which one of its Algerian fighters was killed (signaling to Tunisians as well that other nationalities were within its ranks.) This was followed by IS official media disseminators, including Ajnad al-Khilafah bi-Ifriqiya Media, claiming responsibility for attacks in Tunisia on May 2, also in Jebel Sallum. This increasingly formalized approach suggests that the official announcement of a new wilayah may be imminent.
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Check out my new article at Hudson Institute's Current Trends in Islamist Ideology: "The Rise and Decline of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya"

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Over the past two years, global attention has shifted to Syria and Iraq with the rise of Jabhat al-Nusra and the return of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). However, nearly one thousand miles to the west, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) has continued its work of facilitating a future Islamic state since the spectacular attack on the American consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
Initially, ASL launched a highly sophisticated program of dawa(outreach) which included the provisioning of social services both inside and outside of Libya. This has provided it with an avenue for local support. But since Libyan General Khalifa Haftar announced a major offensive against Islamist armed groups in eastern Libya in May 2014 (codenamed Operation Dignity), ASL has focused primarily on military action. ASL’s fortunes have dropped dramatically in the process, further exacerbated by the death of its leader, Muhammad al-Zahawi, confirmed in January 2015, and ISIS’ intensification of its efforts to create a Libyan base independent of ASL since November 2014. Set in this context, this piece will examine the ebb and flow in ASL’s fortunes.
In many ways, ASL followed the model of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST), viewing its outreach and social services campaign as an important part of establishing and building not only an Islamic society, but an eventual Islamic state governed by its interpretations of Sharia (Islamic law). In contrast to the Libyan government, which is often corrupt, incompetent, or extractive, ASL worked to convince the local population of its own competence and benevolence. Critically, this helped it win greater public support.
In addition to ASL’s reach across Libya, from Benghazi, Tripoli and Ajdabiya to Sirte, Darna and the Gulf of Sidra, among other smaller locales, it has also operated abroad. Most notably, it has dispatched operatives to Syria, Sudan and Gaza to assist in humanitarian relief efforts. This has added a whole new layer to the meaning of global jihad and how various groups might try to engage populations outside their local areas of operation.
ASL has enjoyed a number of identities as an organization: On the one hand, it has been a charity, a security service, a health service and a religious education provider; on the other hand, it is also a militia, a terrorist organization and a training base for foreign jihadists. In recognition of this complexity, this analysis looks at the full spectrum of the group and teases out ASL’s dawa campaign locally and globally; its hopes and future plans based off of its dawa literature on aqida (creed) and manhaj (methodology); its training of foreign fighters for the Syrian conflict as well as for the conflict with General Haftar; and, the rise of ISIS as a competitor. In sum, this essay seeks to provide a comprehensive view of ASL in its fourth year of existence.
The Dawa First Strategy
In the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, most specifically in countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia where regimes were fully overthrown, the public sphere opened. These countries also represented a fresh start and laboratory for a new jihadi campaign in the wake of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) failures at controlling territory and instituting governance last decade.
For example, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri thought that this new environment provided an opportunity “for dawa and informing…Only God knows for how long they [local governments and the West] will continue, so the people of Islam and Jihad should benefit from them and exploit them.”1 In the same audio message, he further emphasized the superiority of Sharia over all other legal systems and laws. Zawahiri also endorsed the liberation of Islamic lands, opposed normalizing relations with Israel and underscored the importance of “cleansing the lands” of financial and social corruption.
In 2004, the foremost respected Sunni jihadi ideologue alive today, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, wrote Waqafat ma’ Thamrat al-Jihad (Stances on the Fruit of Jihad) in an attempt to steer the jihadi movement away from the abuses of his former student and AQI leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In the book, Maqdisi examines the differences between what he describes as qital al- nikayya (fighting to hurt or damage the enemy) andqital al-tamkin (fighting to consolidate one’s power). Maqdisi argues that the former provides only short-term tactical victories whereas the latter provides a framework for consolidating an Islamic state. Implicit is Maqdisi’s emphasis on the importance of planning, organization, education and dawa.2
The formation of ASL along with its sister organizations in Tunisia (AST) and Egypt (ASE) were seen as logical conclusions and implementations of Zawahiri’s and Maqdisi’s ideas.3 In short, these groups selected a dawa-first strategy instead of a jihad-first strategy. As a result, one of the main avenues through which ASL advanced its ideas was its social services programs. This cultivation of followers in a broad fashion – in contrast to the more vanguard-oriented organizations that have been involved in jihadism in a local, regional, or global capacity over the past 30 years – was seen as a new way to consolidate a future Islamic state.
At first, this approach appeared to forge a new and successful way forward for the jihadi movement, with an unprecedented number of individuals joining ASL and AST. Over the past two years, however, thisdawa-first approached has backfired. Within a month of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coup d‘état in Egypt in early July 2013, all of the key members ofASE had either been arrested or had been forced to link-up with Jama’at Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis’ growing insurgency in northern Sinai. Still others had fled to Syria to join the jihad against the Bashar al-Assad regime. Less than two months later, at the end of August 2013, the Tunisian government designated AST as a terrorist organization and proceeded to dismantle it via widespread arrests. As a result, some Tunisians left for Libya and joined up with ASL while others went to Syria and joinedISIS.
As for ASL, once General Haftar launched his war against them, it too mostly stopped conducting regular dawa. The dawa events it did sponsor were publicized after the fact and related to providing meat and food to the poor and needy during Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha in the summer and fall of 2014. Instead, much of what has been published by ASL since then has been related to the fighting with General Haftar’s forces. Additionally, while still boasting of members in other cities, ASL has confined the vast majority of its military operations to Benghazi. And while ASL has not disintegrated like ASE or AST, its capacities have been severely degraded, providing ISIS with an opening in the fall of 2014.
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Ifrīqīyyah Media presents a new statement from Katībat ‘Uqbah Ibn Nāfi': “Information, Reminders, Coded Messages, Advice, and Warning"

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Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Katībat ‘Uqbah Ibn Nāfi’ — “Information, Reminders, Coded Messages, Advice, and Warning”
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To inquire about a translation for this statement for a fee email: [email protected]
 

al-Bayyāriq Foundation for Media presents a new statement from Anṣār al-Sharī’ah in Tunisia: "Congratulations On the Occasion Of Blessed ‘Īd al-Fiṭr"

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Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Anṣār al-Sharī’ah in Tunisia — “Congratulations On the Occasion Of Blessed ‘Īd al-Fiṭr”
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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"

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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”
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To inquire about a translation for this statement for a fee email: [email protected]