Overview

Also Known As:

Executive Summary:

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) is a violent jihadist group that seeks to implement sharia (Islamic law) in Tunisia. It works to achieve this goal by performing dawa (proselytizing, including both religious education and the provision of social services) domestically to increase its base of support for future violent jihad, enforcing strict modesty laws under the banner of hisbah (the duty to command moral acts and prohibit immoral ones, in accord with sharia), and carrying out jihad by instigating and executing violent attacks.

While AST shares the name “Ansar al-Sharia” (Supporters of Islamic Law) with like-minded groups in Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, each organization operates independently. Former prison inmate Seifallah Ben Hassine founded AST in April 2011 following the Tunisian revolution that year.

AST has initiated several violent protests, including the September 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tunis. AST militants assassinated secular Tunisian politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in February and July 2013, respectively. Consequently, the Tunisian government cracked down on AST. Since then, AST and the Tunisian government have been locked in a low-intensity war with casualties on both sides.

AST complements its goal of establishing an Islamist state in Tunisia by pushing young Tunisians to go fight alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria. In July 2014, AST spokesman Seifeddine Rais declared loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Many AST leaders have themselves gone to Iraq and Syria to pledge allegiance to ISIS and fight alongside it.

AST maintains close ties with al-Qaeda (AQ), AQ affiliate al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL), and ISIS. AST has been designated a terrorist group by the United States, the United Nations, and Tunisia, among others.

Doctrine:

AST’s ideology combines Salafism—belief in a “pure Islam”Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-. practiced by Muslims’ pious ancestors (salaf) at the time of the Prophet Muhammad—with jihad.Mohammad Abu Rumman and Hassan Abu Haniya, “Ansar al-Sharia: Al-Qaeda’s Response to Arab Spring,” Al-Monitor, January 7, 2013, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/iw/politics/2013/01/history-ansar-al-sharia-arab-spring.html#. AST supports the creation of an Islamic state governed by sharia (Islamic law).Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-. AST long focused on waging jihad mainly through non-violent activities like dawa (proselytizing through both religious education and providing social services), while leaving the option open to resort to more violence in the future.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Meeting Tunisia’s Ansar al-Sharia,” Foreign Policy, March 8, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/08/meeting-tunisias-ansar-al-sharia/. AST spokesman Hassen Brik said in 2012 that dawa built AST’s base of support for future violent jihad. “This is a long-term vision to prepare society,” Brik said. “We are for jihad, armed revolution, but we cannot do this if the people are not with us. It will only be possible when everyone is behind the vision.”Louisa Loveluck, “Planting the Seeds of Tunisia’s Ansar Al Sharia,” Foreign Policy, September 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/27/planting-the-seeds-of-tunisias-ansar-al-sharia/.

An unnamed AST member stated in an interview that “[t]he state that we imagine is based on God’s laws. This is the [sic] not up for discussion. We are Muslims and we want to act according [to] the Quran and sunna [body of legal practice].”Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-. AST claims democracy and sharia cannot exist simultaneously—according to jihadist group scholar Aaron Y. Zelin, AST “believe[s] democracy is a separate religion from Islam.”Aaron Y. Zelin, “Meeting Tunisia’s Ansar al-Sharia,” Foreign Policy, March 8, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/08/meeting-tunisias-ansar-al-sharia/.

AST members in Europe have reportedly “flocked” to listen to al-Qaeda’s “most influential” cleric, Abu Qatada, who was also known as Osama bin Laden’s “European ambassador” for a time.Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-. The group focuses on creating an Islamist state in Tunisia, though AST has adopted al-Qaeda’s worldview of global jihad.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Meeting Tunisia’s Ansar al-Sharia,” Foreign Policy, March 8, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/08/meeting-tunisias-ansar-al-sharia/. “With our religion we can dominate the world, just like we used to in the past,” an anonymous AST member declared in 2013.Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-.

Organizational Structure:

While AST shares the name “Ansar al-Sharia” (Supporters of Islamic Law) with like-minded groups in Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, each organization operates independently. Jihadist group scholar Aaron Y. Zelin notes that “Although there are no known formal or operational links between these disparate organizations, it is possible they may try to link up in the future based on ideological affinity and similar end goals.”Aaron Y. Zelin, “Know Your Ansar Al-Sharia,” Foreign Policy, September 21, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/21/know-your-ansar-al-sharia/.

AST was founded by Seifallah Ben Hassine, a.k.a. Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, the group’s former leader who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2015.Carlotta Gall and Eric Schmitt, “Jihadist From Tunisia Died in Strike in Libya, U.S. Official Says,” New York Times, July 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/03/world/africa/jihadist-from-tunisia-died-in-strike-in-libya-us-official-says.html?_r=2. AST is divided into various compartments, including offices for dawa (proselytizing), social services, media, and tactical coordination.Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Ansar Al-Sharia Tunisia’s Long Game: Dawa, Hisba, and Jihad,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism–The Hague, May 2013, http://www.icct.nl/download/file/Gartenstein-Ross-Ansar-al-Sharia-Tunisia%27s-Long-Game-May-2013.pdf.

According to an alleged AST leader, the group is a “lightweight and decentralized movement, with an extended autonomy for the local groups, which are the real core of the movement.”Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-. The leader goes on to describe the organization’s lowest level as being “its most important,” where local groups made up of around 20 people coordinate the group’s activities neighborhood by neighborhood. The organization is reportedly divided into northern, central, and southern branches.Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-.

Counterterrorism scholar Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has noted that although AST is divided into small, autonomous sub-groups, the group’s senior leadership is not “irrelevant or lacking any means of control.” Gartenstein-Ross explained that “sources loyal to AST have an incentive to portray it as decentralized… by emphasizing this decentralization, AST can engage in violence without triggering a state crackdown.”Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Ansar Al-Sharia Tunisia’s Long Game: Dawa, Hisba, and Jihad,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism–The Hague, May 2013, http://www.icct.nl/download/file/Gartenstein-Ross-Ansar-al-Sharia-Tunisia%27s-Long-Game-May-2013.pdf.

Financing:

AST’s principal fundraisers are “[Tunisian] charities that raise financial and in-kind donations,” according to Tunisian journalist Nebil Zaghdoud.Yasmine Najjar, “Al-Qaeda Funds Ansar Al-Sharia, Tunisia Reveals,” AllAfrica, August 29, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201308300788.html. Tunisian researcher Sami Brahem said AST profits from smuggled goods and from “more than 120 legal organisations that distribute subsidies,” many of which operate overseas.Mona Yahia, “Ansar Al-Sharia Threatens Tunisia,” AllAfrica, December 13, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201312150228.html.

The Tunisian and U.S. governments claim AST receives funding from al-Qaeda, particularly its affiliate al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In August 2013, Tunisia’s Director General of National Security, Mustapha Ben Amor, said that AST “is a member of the parent terrorist al-Qaeda” and that its financing comes from “certain Arab countries, such as Yemen, Libya and Mali.” Yasmine Najjar, “Al-Qaeda Funds Ansar Al-Sharia, Tunisia Reveals,” AllAfrica, August 29, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201308300788.html. David Cohen, then–U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, stated that “AQIM…has provided funding for other terrorist groups including Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia.”“Remarks of Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen before the Center for a New American Security on ‘Confronting New Threats in Terrorist Financing,’” U.S. Department of the Treasury, March 4, 2014, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2308.aspx.

Recruitment and Training:

AST claims to have recruited as many as 70,000 members from April 2011 to January 2014.S.J., “The Salafist Struggle,” Economist, January 1, 2014, http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2014/01/dispatch-tunisia. AST youth wing leader Youssef Mazouz believes these recruits were attracted to AST because of its charity work, proselytizing campaign, and distribution of aid to poor areas.S.J., “The Salafist Struggle,” Economist, January 1, 2014, http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2014/01/dispatch-tunisia. AST also appears to attract recruits by capitalizing on popular frustration with the Tunisian government.Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-.

Tunisian prisons and schools are major recruitment feeders for AST. AST founder Abu Iyad al-Tunisi was released from prison as part of a general pardon of prisoners following the Tunisian revolution in 2011 and he recruited many other former inmates to AST.Yasmine Najjar, “Al-Qaeda Funds Ansar Al-Sharia, Tunisia Reveals,” AllAfrica, August 29, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201308300788.html. Indeed, a spokesman for Tunisia’s Interior Ministry stated that most members of AST “were among those released from prison” under the general pardon.Yasmine Najjar, “Al-Qaeda Funds Ansar Al-Sharia, Tunisia Reveals,” AllAfrica, August 29, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201308300788.html.

Like other Salafist groups, AST appears to have expanded its membership by recruiting through “preaching tents” on school campuses. These tents attract students by discussing popular topics, like how to support the revolt against the Syrian regime.Yasmine Najjar, “Al-Qaeda Funds Ansar Al-Sharia, Tunisia Reveals,” AllAfrica, August 29, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201308300788.html.

AST also recruits through social media, although this process has proved challenging. The group’s media wing, al-Qayrawan Media Foundation, used a Facebook page and Twitter account until both were removed. Al-Qayrawan later reemerged on those sites under other names.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Meeting Tunisia’s Ansar al-Sharia,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 8, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/meeting-tunisias-ansar-al-sharia.

Although AST members mainly work to promote the group domestically, thousands of AST recruits have gone on to training camps in Libya. From there, these recruits have travelled to Syria to fight alongside other jihadist groups, like ISIS.Thomas Joscelyn, “UN recognizes ties between Ansar al Sharia in Libya, Al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, November 19, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/11/un_designates_ansar.php; Carlotta Gall, “Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad,” New York Times, August 5, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/06/world/africa/tunisia-in-political-transition-fears-attacks-by-citizens-radicalized-abroad.html.

Key Leaders

  • Seifallah Ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al-Tunisi)

    Seifallah Ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al-Tunisi)

    Former leader- deceased
  • Seifeddine Rais

    Seifeddine Rais

    Spokesman
  • Wael Amami

    Deputy leader
  • Kamel Zarrouk

    Kamel Zarrouk

    Deputy leader
  • Sami Ben Khemais Essid

    Sami Ben Khemais Essid

    Former head of operations for al-Qaeda in Italy
  • Mehdi Kammoun

    Senior leader
  • Hassan Ben Brik

    Hassan Ben Brik

    Head of dawa committee
  • Ahmed al-Akrami

    Medical and humanitarian coordinator
  • Youssef Mazouz

    Leader of AST’s youth wing

History

 

Violent Activities

Designations

Designations by the U.S. Government:

January 10, 2014: The Department of State designates Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).“Individuals and Entities Designated by the State Department Under E.O. 13224,” U.S. Department of State, accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/143210.htm. January 10, 2014: The Department of State designates Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (under Executive Order 13224).“Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar Al-Shari’a Organizations and Leaders,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/219519.htm.
January 10, 2014: The Department of State designates Seifallah Ben Hassine AKA Abu Iyad al-Tunisi AKA Abou Iyadh, then-leader of AST, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (under Executive Order 13224).“Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar Al-Shari’a Organizations and Leaders,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/219519.htm. April 19, 2002: The Department of State designates Mohamed ben Belgacem ben Abdallah al-Aouadi AKA Mohamed ben Belgacem, head of AST security wing, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (under Executive Order 13224).“Executive Order 13224,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/terror.pdf.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

Tunisia listed Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia as a terrorist organization on August 27, 2013.“Tunisia Declares Ansar Al-Sharia a Terrorist Group,” BBC News, September 14, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-23853241. United Kingdom listed Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia as a terrorist organization in April 2014.“Proscribed Terrorist Organizations,” United Kingdom Home Office, November 28, 2014, p. 7, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380939/ProscribedOrganisations.pdf.
United Nations listed Ansar al-Shari'a in Tunisia (AAS-T) AKA Ansar al Sharia Tunisia AKA AST as a Terrorist Organization associated with al-Qaeda pursuant to resolution 2161 (2014) on September 23, 2014.“Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Adds Fourteen Individuals and Two Entities to Its Sanctions List,” United Nations Security Council, September 15, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11575.doc.htm. United Nations listed Seifallah Ben Hassine AKA Abu Iyad al-Tunisi AKA Abou Iyadh, then-leader of AST, as an Individual Associated with al-Qaeda pursuant to resolution 2161 (2014) on September 23, 2014.“Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Adds Fourteen Individuals and Two Entities to Its Sanctions List,” United Nations Security Council, September 15, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11575.doc.htm.

Associations

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Al-Qaeda

There is a long history of documented cooperation between AST and al-Qaeda. Former AST leader Abu Iyad al-Tunisi reportedly met with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri before the 9/11 attacks. Al-Tunisi’s Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG) has been accused of helping al-Qaeda assassinate Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001. In April 2001, a “dual TCG-al Qaeda operative” was arrested in Italy for planning an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Rome. The plot forced U.S. embassies and consulates across the country to close for the first time since the first Gulf War.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda Responsible for 4 Attacks on U.S. Embassies in September,” Weekly Standard, October 3, 2012, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/al-qaeda-responsible-4-attacks-us-embassies-september_653460.html?page=1.

Members of AST’s leadership have longstanding connections with al-Qaeda. Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn drew direct connections between AST and al-Qaeda in an October 2012 report in the Weekly Standard, writing that then-AST leader Abu Iyad al-Tunisi was a “notorious al Qaeda terrorist” whom the United Nations accused of creating the Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG) ‘in coordination with’ al-Qaeda.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda Responsible for 4 Attacks on U.S. Embassies in September,” Weekly Standard, October 3, 2012, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/al-qaeda-responsible-4-attacks-us-embassies-september_653460.html?page=1. Abu Iyad al-Tunisi was a close associate of al-Qaeda, fighting alongside the group and the Taliban in Afghanistan even after the country fell to coalition forces in 2001. A Joint Task Force-Guantanamo report found that al-Tunisi, alongside numerous future Guantanamo detainees, formed a unit called the “Jalalabad Group” and “volunteered to defend [bin Laden] and the embattled al Qaeda fighters at Tora Bora.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda Ally Orchestrated Assault on US Embassy in Tunisia,” Long War Journal, October 2, 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/al_qaeda_ally_orches.php.

As for AST’s ideological influences, a young AST leader interviewed by Fabio Merone in 2013 said that AST shares its “theoretical references with the international jihadi movement.” Some of the group’s biggest ideological influences include Abu Qatada al-Filastini, Abu Mohamed al-Maqdisi, Abu Basir al-Tartusi, Hani al-Sibai, and Anwar al-Awlaki, of which three have established al-Qaeda connections. Abu Qatada, who was known as Osama bin Laden’s “European ambassador,” is allegedly the “most influential” of all, as AST members who lived in Europe “flocked to listen to his lessons.”Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-.

In its statements and media releases, AST has been outspoken about its strong relationship with al-Qaeda. In September 2013, AST posted a message on its Facebook page that read, “We remind again that our blessed method is declared and there is no hiding in it, and regarding our loyalty to Qaeda al Jihad and the jihadi formations, we have declared it from the first day and we are not ashamed to renew today our declaration with a louder voice.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Responds to Tunisian Government,” Long War Journal, September 3, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/09/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_6.php#.

After bin Laden was killed in May 2011, then-AST leader Abu Iyad al-Tunisi reportedly said, “Let the entire world celebrate the death of one of our Ummah’s leaders since the death and martyrdom of our leaders for the sake of this straight path… is an indication of the truthfulness of our way… This is the allegiance, and that is the promise to Allah—do not regress after the death of your sheikh [i.e., bin Laden], or the deaths of your leaders. Remain steadfast—and die for [the same cause] for which the best among you died.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al-Sharia Tunisia Honors Senior Al Qaeda ‘Martyrs,’” Long War Journal, January 30, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/01/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_3.php#. In January 2013, AST honored two more deceased al-Qaeda members of on its Facebook page: Said al Shihri, co-founder and deputy emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Khalid bin Abdul Rahman al Husainan, a top leader of al-Qaeda central.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al-Sharia Tunisia Honors Senior Al Qaeda ‘Martyrs,’” Long War Journal, January 30, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/01/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_3.php#.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

In October of 2013, Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told Reuters, “There is a relation between leaders of Ansar al Sharia [Tunisia], al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al Sharia in Libya. We are coordinating with our neighbors over that.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda and the Threat in North Africa,” Long War Journal, November 21, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/11/al_qaeda_and_the_thr_1.php. The U.S. government has commented that this relationship is financial, with David Cohen, then–Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, saying that “AQIM… has provided funding for other terrorist groups including Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia.”“Remarks of Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen before the Center for a New American Security on ‘Confronting New Threats in Terrorist Financing’,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, March 4, 2014, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2308.aspx. In the U.S. State Department’s designation of AST, the group is described as “ ideologically aligned with al Qaeda and tied to its affiliates, including AQIM.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-Affiliated Group Assaulted U.S. Embassy in Tunis,” Weekly Standard, January 10, 2014, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/al-qaeda-affiliated-group-assaulted-us-embassy-tunis_774103.html.

In December 2012, the Tunisian government presented some of the first concrete ties between AST and AQIM. The government announced that it had arrested 16 alleged members of a terrorist cell affiliated with AQIM, known as the Militia of Uqba Ibn Nafaa in Tunisia. The government claimed that the cell members “were known for their active participation in events organized by Ansar al Sharia.” However, Tunisia’s Prime Minister Ali Larayedh could not prove that the cell had an “organizational relationship” with AST.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-Affiliated Group Assaulted U.S. Embassy in Tunis,” Weekly Standard, January 10, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/12/tunisian_government.php#. In August 2013, the Tunisian government offered a direct link between AST and al-Qaeda when it designated AST as a terrorist organization. The government produced a handwritten “Allegiance Act” signed between Abu Iyad al-Tunisi and AQIM leader Abdelmalik Droukdel.Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Bridget Moreng, “Tunisia’s War with Ansar Al-Sharia: New Revelations about Al-Qaeda’s North African Network,” War on the Rocks, October 21, 2013, http://warontherocks.com/2013/10/tunisias-war-with-ansar-al-sharia-new-revelations-about-al-qaedas-north-african-network/.

On social media, AST has been openly supportive of AQIM, retweeting and helping to disseminate official AQIM communications and releases. AQIM has also praised AST operations and attacks.Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIM Rejects Islamic State’s Caliphate, Reaffirms Allegiance to Zawahiri,” Long War Journal, July 14, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/07/aqim_rejects_islamic.php.

ISIS

AST is heavily involved in exporting militants from Tunisia to fight in Syria. Tunisians in Syria fight alongside a host of groups, but primarily with ISIS. In February 2014, it was estimated that more than 5,000 Tunisians had traveled to Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad’s government.Bill Roggio, “Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria,” Long War Journal, February 27, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_7.php. That same month, Tunisian Interior Minister Lofti Ben Jeddou reported that Tunisian security forces had prevented 8,000 Tunisians from traveling to Syria to fight.Bill Roggio, “Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria,” Long War Journal, February 27, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_7.php. The flow of Tunisians out of the country has been so great that then-AST leader Abu Iyad al-Tunisi lamented that the wars in Syria and Mali had “emptied Tunisia of its young.”Bill Roggio, “Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria,” Long War Journal, February 27, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_7.php. Tunisians have featured heavily in ISIS propaganda, and ISIS has regularly eulogized Tunisian fighters and suicide bombers.Bill Roggio, “Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria,” Long War Journal, February 27, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_7.php.

In 2014, AST moved to become an official ISIS affiliate. After evading government capture in Tunis, AST deputy leader Kamel Zarrouk traveled to Syria. Zarrouk arrived in the country in February 2014 and joined ISIS. Magharebia reported that “Zarrouk is known in his [Tunisian] neighborhood as someone who encouraged young people to go for jihad in Syria, which he considers to be the springboard for establishing an Islamic state from the Gulf to the ocean.”Bill Roggio, “Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria,” Long War Journal, February 27, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/ansar_al_sharia_tuni_7.php. In July 2014, while speaking at a mosque in Kairouan, Tunisia, AST spokesman Seifeddine Rais swore loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.Jemal Arfaoui, “Tunisia: Ansar Al-Sharia Spokesman Backs Isis,” AllAfrica, May 14, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201407090299.html. The same month, Al-Monitor reported that a number of AST leaders had gone to Syria and pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi.Abdallah Suleiman Ali, “Global Jihadists Recognize Islamic State,” Al-Monitor, July 3, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2014/07/syria-iraq-isis-islamic-caliphate-global-recognition.html#.

In their social media postings and official communications, AST has backed ISIS over competing jihadist groups in Syria. On April 9, 2013, AST posted a photo of ISIS militants on its website with a banner that read, “O lions of god in all the earth Call out Allah Akbar, for victory and conquest is ours. Rejoice, for the glorious caliphate is near. Our [sharia] will reign over every corner [or inch of land].”Thomas Joscelyn, “Social Media Jihad: Cheerleading Al Qaeda’s New ‘Islamic State,’” Long War Journal, April 9, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/04/social_media_jihad_cheerleadin.php. In May 2013, Zarrouk stated, “I would like to declare loud and clear, that the al-Nusra Front, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the mujahideen in Somalia, Mali, and Algeria, we all stand united against our enemies.”Mischa Benoit-Lavelle, “Tunisia Considers Crackdown on Radical Preachers,” Al-Monitor, May 10, 2013, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/fr/contents/articles/opinion/2013/05/tunisia-terrorist-crackdown.html.

Ansar al-Sharia Libya (ASL)

In designating Ansar al-Sharia Libya (ASL), the U.N. noted that the group has received support from AST.Agence France-Presse, “UN Security Council Adds Libya's Ansar Al-Sharia to Terror List,” Daily Telegraph (London), November 19, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/11242369/UN-Security-Council-adds-Libya-Islamists-to-terror-list.html. Tunisian security officials have stated that logistical, financial, and operational ties exist between the two groups and that ASL has sold weapons to AST.Faisal Irshaid, “Profile: Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, June 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27732589. Videos of Tunisians captured and interrogated by civilians in Libya suggest that members of AST have traveled into Libya to train with ASL. An anonymous founding member of AST commented in a 2013 interview that the relations between Ansar al-Sharia Egypt, AST, and ASL are like a “spider web.” Members of the three organizations met and traveled together in the Gaza Strip and in northern Sinai in 2012 to discuss administration, organization, and management with Palestinian Salafists.Aaron Zelin, “Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar Al-Sharia,” Think Africa Press, October 25, 2013, http://thinkafricapress.com/tunisia/uncovering-ansar-al-sharia.

Rhetoric

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AST Statement on the Jebel Chaambi attacks, July 2014

“God enabled the Knights of al-Qairawan, the mujahideen of Uqba [Ibn] Nafi, to increase another great masterpiece of epics, championships, and another lesson on the foolish idols who interpret the mujahideen’s silence and patience against their crimes as weakness and an inability to respond…They (the mujahideen) surprised them Wednesday evening, the 18th day of Ramadan, with a raid on two outposts stationed in the Chaambi mountains, leading to 15 dead and 20 wounded.”Kevin Moore, “‘Statement from Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia Claiming Responsibility for Attack on Tunisian Security Forces,’ July 19 2014,” Edinburgh Arabic Initiative, July 20, 2014, https://edinburgharabicinitiative.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/statement-from-ansar-al-sharia-in-tunisia-claiming-responsibility-for-attack-on-tunisian-security-forces/.

AST Facebook Page, September 2013

“We remind again that our blessed method is declared and there is no hiding in it, and regarding our loyalty to Qaedat al Jihad and the jihadi formations, we have declared it from the first day and we are not ashamed to renew today our declaration with a louder voice.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Responds to Tunisian Government,” Long War Journal, September 3, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/04/social_media_jihad_cheerleadin.php.

Seifallah Ben Hassine, May 2013

“A message to our heroes who wrote and are writing with their blood and sweat the epics of Islam in the lands of jihad, may Allah give steadfast to your mujahidin and accept your martyrs and release your prisoners from the hands of your enemies and give your families patience and perish your and His enemy.”Louisa Loveluck, “Planting the Seeds of Tunisia’s Ansar Al Sharia,” Foreign Policy, September 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/27/planting-the-seeds-of-tunisias-ansar-al-sharia/.

Kamel Zarrouk, May 2013

“I would like to declare loud and clear, that the al-Nusra Front, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the mujahideen in Somalia, Mali, and Algeria, we all stand united against our enemies.”Mischa Benoit-Lavelle, “Tunisia Considers Crackdown on Radical Preachers,” Al-Monitor, May 10, 2013, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/fr/contents/articles/opinion/2013/05/tunisia-terrorist-crackdown.html.

AST Facebook Page, April 2013

“O lions of god in all the earth Call out Allah Akbar, for victory and conquest is ours. Rejoice, for the glorious caliphate is near. Our sharia [law] will reign over every corner [or inch of land].”Thomas Joscelyn, “Social Media Jihad: Cheerleading Al Qaeda’s New ‘Islamic State,’” Long War Journal, April 9, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/04/social_media_jihad_cheerleadin.php.

Seifallah Ben Hassine, March 2013

“To your wise men we say: Keep your sick [or diseased] ones from us, or we will direct our war against them until their downfall and their meeting with the dustbin of history... Know that we will not delay in saying that the answer is what you see, not what you hear... If you do not rectify your situation.”Thomas Joscelyn, “War of Words Escalates in Tunisia,” Long War Journal, March 27, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/03/war_of_words_escalat.php#.

“Young Leader of AST,” Early 2013

“From the perspective of the development of our group’s theoretical framework/worldview, some of the most influential Salafi activists include: Abu Quttada al-Falestini, Abu Mohammed al-Maqdassi, Abu Basir Tartusi, Hani Sabahi, and al-Aulaki. Abu Kottada al-Falestini is probably the most influential among them--our brothers that were in Europe over the past years all flocked to listen to his lessons. It is not strange then that Abu Yadh himself or Abdallah a-Tunsi went to him as well. Sheikh Hani Sabahi is also respected in our movement. We have a steady contact with him and he is very sympathetic to our experience.”Fabio Merone, “Salafism in Tunisia: An Interview with a Member of Ansar Al-Sharia,” Jadaliyya, April 11, 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11166/salafism-in-tunisia_an-interview-with-a-member-of-.

Hassen Brik, AST spokesman, September 2012

“This is a long-term vision to prepare society. We are for jihad, armed revolution, but we cannot do this if the people are not with us. It will only be possible when everyone is behind the vision. Look at Libya, the insurrection was only successful once armed and sharing a common vision.”Louisa Loveluck, “Planting the Seeds of Tunisia’s Ansar Al Sharia,” Foreign Policy, September 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/27/planting-the-seeds-of-tunisias-ansar-al-sharia/.

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