Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou revealed that the Salafist-jihadist Ansar al-Sharia organization was linked to the Uqba Ibn Nafi battalion, led by Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, a leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). During a news conference held yesterday, Aug. 28, Ben Jeddou said that the battalion was involved in the terrorist attacks that have plagued Tunisia.
The minister stressed that the activities of the Salafist-jihadist movement would be contained by categorizing Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organization, as announced by Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh on Aug. 27. He added that any member affiliated with the organization or anyone who provides funding or any form of assistance to it will be deemed a criminal and referred to the judiciary.
Since late April 2013, Tunisia has witnessed operations carried out by the armed forces in the face of armed groups holed up in Jebel ech Chambi, which lies along the Tunisian-Algerian border. Dozens of members of the army and security services fell prey to these operations, and a number of militants were killed and arrested.
Ben Jeddou said, “The army 's bombing of terrorist sites in Jebel ech Chambi and its destruction of their camps helped the National Guard troops capture dangerous figures such as Mohamed al-Habib Omari, Ahmed al-Mubaraki and others who used to provide logistical support.”
Furthermore, a department within the Interior Ministry said that a girl who belongs to Ansar al-Sharia claimed to be recruiting girls to practice what is known as “sexual jihad,” to support fighters who are holed up in Jebel ech Chambi.
Director of Public Security Mustapha Ben Omar revealed details of the assassinations of leftist oppositionist Chokri Belaid and nationalist MP Mohammed Brahimi, pointing out that Kamal al-Qadqadi, who is accused of killing Belaid, called for adding the oppositionist's name to the list of assassination targets after watching a “satirical TV statement” made by Belaid, addressing the Islamists. Ben Omar said that the accused got the approval of Abu Ayad (Saifullah Ben Hussein), the leader of Ansar al-Sharia.
The security director said that Brahimi’s assassination was carried out with the same weapon that killed Belaid. The weapon was found during a raid on a house in the Wardieh neighborhood near the capital. Ben Omar confirmed that Abu Bakr al-Hakim and Qadqadi were involved in the assassination, alongside others who used to live near Brahimi’s residence in the Ghazala neighborhood.
The interior minister revealed an assassination list containing names of politicians and anti-Islamist media figures, such as Secretary-General of the Republican Party Maya Jribi, MP Salma Bakkar from the Democratic Path Party, Popular Front MP Monji al-Rahawi, opposition MP Salah al-Din Zahaf and Nidaa Tounes leaders such as Taieb Baccouche and Khemais Ksila. Moreover, the list also included media figures such as Soufiane Ben Farhat, Nawfal al-Wertani, Lotfi al-Amari, Haitham al-Makki and the blogger Lina Ben Mehani, as well as a number of academics and writers such as Al-Habib al-Kazdaghli, Olfat Youssef, Mohamed Talbi, Sheikh Farid Beji and the film director Nouri Bouzid.
The list included the leader of the Ennahda movement, Amer Laarayedh (the brother of the prime minister), and the president of the Federation of Industry and Commerce, Wadad Bou Shmawi.
Despite this information, the minister of interior noted that “not all Salafists belong to Ansar al-Sharia. Therefore, they should be treated with extreme caution without tightening the grip on them and while allowing them the right to diversity and freedom of worship.”
The minister assured Tunisians that the terrorist incidents did not affect the recovery of public security and the fight against crime, stressing that tourism has reached its peak during the last two months. He also added that the terrorists who are in prison outnumber those who are on the run.
Military and security reports revealed that the situation in Tunisia has been clearly affected by the developments in Algeria, Libya and Mali, due to the wide margin of maneuver enjoyed by armed groups and the open fronts they have in these countries. Meanwhile, there are concerns that this phenomenon could grow, given the potential return of fighters from the Syrian front.