Sunday, September 2

A Salafi Tide Threatens Tunisia

A Tunisian veiled woman walks past a police car after Friday prayers in the old city of Al Casbah in Tunis 15 June 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Zoubeir Souissi)
Tunis - To the Tunisian populace, the emergence of a Salafi movement, with ideas outside the rhetoric of the most prevalent ideologies, seemed to be an anomaly. Head of the leading party al-Nahda, Rashid Ghannouchi, however, saw it as “the birth of a new culture.”
Despite the sudden appearance, the phenomenon has hit Tunisia with force. The Interior Ministry states that thousands of citizens are “Salafis.” They present a new faction of society, because their allegiances are “across borders” and not related to the political system in Tunisia.
They believe their mission will reform society, based on the deeds of al-salaf al-salih [the pious forefathers].
“They call for an understanding of the Quran and the Sunnah [teachings and deeds of the prophet] corresponding to the interpretation of the Islamic nation’s salaf [forefathers], the prophet’s companions, their followers, and their followers’ followers, believing they represent the authentic Islamic way,” according to Osoul wa Tarikh al-Firaq al-Islamiya (The Origins and History of Islamist Groups) by Islamist movements historian Mustafa Ibn Muhammad Ibn Mustafa.
The Salafi movement is nothing but religious. It believes that all answers lie with al-salaf al-salih [the pious forefathers].
They call for jihad to reform the nation and save it from the backwardness caused by the “disbelief” left behind by Western colonialism in Islamic societies.
They call for 'jihad' to reform the nation and save it from the backwardness caused by the “disbelief” left behind by Western colonialism in Islamic societies.Tunisia witnessed this violently on four occasions following the success of the 14 January 2011 revolution which toppled Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.The first armed confrontation between a Salafi group and the Tunisian army took place in Al-Rouhiyah region, leading to the death of a colonel and two soldiers and of two armed militants. The search continues for a third that got away.
A high-ranking Tunisian security officer told Al-Akhbar that information gathered indicates that the situation is grave, especially on the border with Algeria. There is evidence of a similar threat on the border with Libya, after the discovery of a dangerous weapons leak on that side.
This was the second incident. A cell was caught smuggling arms from Libya. It was confronted by the anti-terrorism unit and the national army. Following an exchange of fire, 20 wanted Tunisians were arrested.
This new situation is transforming Tunis into a new base for jihadi action affiliated with the Salafi Call Society. One example is the Tunisian fighters who were arrested by the authorities in Syria. Allegedly, they confessed that they arrived in Syria by way of Libya, following the call for jihad against the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Tunisian mosques.
They said that going through Libya was easy. They also managed to find financing for their mission.
Those detained came from all regions of Tunisia, from Benzart to Ben Guerdane (in the far south). They met in Libya, from where they headed to Turkey then to Syria.
The families of the detainees expressed their disbelief that their sons had gone to Syria. The security official believes this is an indicator that “recruitment operations are happening in secret. Trips to Libya are under many pretexts, including job opportunities.”
“The infiltration of cells has spread into Libya and the southern tip of Algeria,” the official adds. He indicates that the smuggling of arms into Syria could be happening in great quantities as various hideouts have been discovered, the biggest of which was in Al-Kaf, close to the Algerian borders.
Another security official says that “there are serious worries about the eruption of the situation in the summer and the upcoming month of Ramadan.”
“There is information about plans for major operations against tourism and commercial sites and public facilities inside Tunisia. The information actually indicates that weapons are being smuggled from Algeria to carry out these missions,” he explained.
The official’s statements followed a warning by the Internal Security Unions following Salafi attacks in the Jendouba region against security and public facilities. The warning maintained that the Salafis are preparing for attacks in Tunisia.
The security source revealed that drug dealers and jihadi arms smugglers are cooperating together. He believes that smuggling arms and drugs happens through the same roads, well known by smugglers from the mafia who look at post-revolutionary Tunisia as a new market.
The smuggling of arms into Syria could be happening in great quantities as various hideouts have been discovered.During a Tunisian television interview, the prime minister’s consultant was asked about “government inaction” against the Salafi threat. “We are dealing with a complex phenomenon in a complex manner,” he said.“Do you want us to deal with them in a security manner and see explosions and the escalation of the security situation in the country?” he asked.
The question suggests that the government is seriously worried about a large-scale terrorist operation. The government is attempting to solve the issue through dialogue, trying to pull the Salafis into the peaceful political process. The Salafis, especially the jihadis see this as a Western heresy.
At least, this is what Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri said in an audio message calling for a “revolt” against the government of al-Nahda, calling it an ally of the United States.

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