Seifallah Ben Hassine

Seifallah Ben Hassine, a Tunisian national, was the U.S.- and U.N.-designated leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST), an internationally designated terrorist group. Ben Hassine was one of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants and had directed a number of assassinations and terrorist attacks, including an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Before his founding of AST, Ben Hassine co-founded the Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG) which organized the recruitment of jihadists for training in al-Qaeda related camps in Afghanistan.“SEIFALLAH BEN OMAR BEN MOHAMED BEN HASSINE,” United Nations Security Council, September 23, 2014, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/seifallah-ben-omar-ben-mohamed-ben-hassine.

Ben Hassine allegedly fled Tunisia in the 1990s, where he eventually settled in the United Kingdom and studied under well-known radical cleric, Abu Qatada. Sometime after being further radicalized by the teachings of Abu Qatada, Ben Hassine traveled to Afghanistan where he joined the Taliban.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda ally orchestrated assault on US Embassy in Tunisia,” Long War Journal, October 2, 2012, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/al_qaeda_ally_orches.php.

In 2000, Ben Hassine co-founded the TCG, which was erected in part with the help of bin Laden. By 2001, Ben Hassine became one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants and had reportedly met with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda ally orchestrated assault on US Embassy in Tunisia,” Long War Journal, October 2, 2012, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/10/al_qaeda_ally_orches.php. Additionally, on September 9, 2001, Ben Hassine reportedly directed two Tunisian suicide bombers to assassinate Ahmed Shah Massoud, a prominent Afghan commander who opposed the Taliban and al-Qaeda. According to media sources, Ben Hassine fled to Pakistan and was later arrested in Turkey. He was extradited to Tunisia from Turkey in 2003 where he was imprisoned for terrorist activities.Carlotta Gall and Eric Schmitt, “Jihadist From Tunisia Died in Strike in Libya, U.S. Official Says,” New York Times, July 2, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/03/world/africa/jihadist-from-tunisia-died-in-strike-in-libya-us-official-says.html?_r=0.

In February 2011, following the revolution and overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Ben Hassine was released under a general amnesty that saw the release of hundreds of Islamist political prisoners.Carlotta Gall and Eric Schmitt, “Jihadist From Tunisia Died in Strike in Libya, U.S. Official Says,” New York Times, July 2, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/03/world/africa/jihadist-from-tunisia-died-in-strike-in-libya-us-official-says.html?_r=0. Following his release, Ben Hassine founded AST, whose ranks included some of the most dangerous extremists who were also freed under the general amnesty. Initially, AST promoted extremist ideology, incited anarchy, and sought to target the Tunisian national security forces and army.“SEIFALLAH BEN OMAR BEN MOHAMED BEN HASSINE,” United Nations Security Council, September 23, 2014, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/seifallah-ben-omar-ben-mohamed-ben-hassine.

On September 14, 2012, AST attempted to carry out an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. However, embassy employees managed to evacuate the premises without injury. Although government personnel attempted to capture Ben Hassine, he managed to evade arrest.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#.

Ben Hassine has been based in Libya since 2013, where he has run training camps and a network of militants throughout the region.Carlotta Gall and Eric Schmitt, “Jihadist From Tunisia Died in Strike in Libya, U.S. Official Says,” New York Times, July 2, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/03/world/africa/jihadist-from-tunisia-died-in-strike-in-libya-us-official-says.html?_r=0. In 2013, it was alleged that Ben Hassine ordered the assassination of two Tunisian politicians: Chokri Belaid in February 2013, and Mohamed Brahmi in July 2013.“SEIFALLAH BEN OMAR BEN MOHAMED BEN HASSINE,” United Nations Security Council, September 23, 2014, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/seifallah-ben-omar-ben-mohamed-ben-hassine.

In August 2013, the Tunisian government determined that AST cooperated with al-Qaeda when it designated AST as a terrorist organization. The government produced a handwritten “Allegiance Act” signed between Ben Hassine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Abdelmalek 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 October 20, 2013, under the orders of Ben Hassine, AST attempted to carry out suicide attacks against a hotel in Sousse, Tunisia, and the Tomb of Habib Bouguiba. Both attacks were directed at tourist destinations.“SEIFALLAH BEN OMAR BEN MOHAMED BEN HASSINE,” United Nations Security Council, September 23, 2014, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/seifallah-ben-omar-ben-mohamed-ben-hassine.

On July 3, 2015, there were reports that Ben Hassine was killed in an American airstrike in Ajdabia, Libya in June 2015. However, given the lack of DNA evidence, authorities were unable to confirm Hassine’s death.Ruth Halkon, “Seifallah Ben Hassine dead: Terrorist linked to beach massacre killed in US air strike,” Mirror, July 3, 2015, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/seifallah-ben-hassine-dead-terrorist-5997517. On July 2017, the U.N. reported that Ben Hassine still remained at large.“SEIFALLAH BEN OMAR BEN MOHAMED BEN HASSINE,” United Nations Security Council, September 23, 2014, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/seifallah-ben-omar-ben-mohamed-ben-hassine. On June 13, 2019, French Defense Minister Florence Parly claimed Ben Hassine was killed in a French army attack in Bou Djebeha, Mali on Feburary 21, 2019.“EXCLUSIVE: END OF THE RUN FOR TUNISIAN ANSAR AL-SHARIA FOUNDER ABU IYADH AL-TUNISI,” MENASTREAM, February 23, 2019, https://menastream.com/exclusive-tunisian-ansar-al-sharia-founder-abu-iyadh-al-tunisi-killed-in-mali/. On March 3, 2020, AQIM confirmed the death of Ben Hassine in a video tribute that mentioned the death of other extremist leaders.“Al Qaeda confirms death of Tunisian extremist group founder,” Estado de Minas, March 3, 2020, https://www.em.com.br/app/noticia/internacional/2020/03/03/interna_internacional,1125892/al-qaeda-confirma-morte-do-fundador-de-grupo-extremista-da-tunisia.shtml.

Also Known As

Extremist entity
Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)
Type(s) of Organization:
Insurgent, non-state actor, religious, social services provider, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
ISIS–affiliated group, Islamist, jihadist, Qutbist, Salafist, Sunni, takfiri
Position(s):
Leader (deceased)

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) was a Salafist group that was prominent in Tunisia from 2011 to 2013. The group has initiated several violent protests, including the September 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tunis. 

  • Designations
  • Rhetoric

United States

  • The U.S. Department of State designated Seifallah Ben Hassine as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on January 10, 2014.“Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar al-Shari'a Organizations and Leaders,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2014, https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/219519.htm.

United Nations

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On February 26, 2015, a Boko Haram suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a market in Biu, Nigeria, killing 19 people and injuring 20 others. A second attempted-suicide bomber was caught and beaten by a crowd before he was able to carry out his attack.

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