Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia Expands Its Operations in Tunisia
February 21, 2013 • 10:46AM

On Tuesday the Prime Minister of Tunisia, Hamadi Jebali, stepped down. After the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid on February 6, he had proposed a technocratic unity government, a proposal which Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Jebali's own party, the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Ennahda party, rejected.

In the midst of this political crisis, the al-Qaeda linked Ansar al-Sharia, together with a loose national grouping known as the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution, has expanded its militia operations in the Tunisian capital, by carrying out night-time patrols.

Ali al-Harzi, the member of Ansar al-Sharia who participated in the terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi on 9/11, was captured in Turkey on route to Syria, returned to Tunisia, and then released by government authorities. His circumstances are uncertain in this rapidly deteriorating political situation.

Tunisians have been very prominent in al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Mali, and Algeria. The 32-man team that seized a gas plant in Algeria was more than one-third Tunisian.

Tunisia's most famous Salafite, Seifallah Ben Hassine or Abu Yadh, was released following the so-called Tunisian revolution, after which he formed Ansar al-Shariah, believed to be behind an assault last year on the U.S. embassy in Tunis.

Ben Hassine regularly preached for joining jihads in Syria and elsewhere and is now on the run from Tunisian police in regard to the embassy attack.

The records of around 600 foreign jihadis found in Iraq in 2007 showed that while the majority were Libyans and Saudis, per capita, Tunisians came in third.

In May 2012, the Syrian government presented a list of 26 foreign fighters it had captured. Nineteen were from Tunisia. There are estimates that some 400 Tunisians are fighting in Syria alone. Authorities also discovered in December what they described as two militant training camps near the Algerian border.

The Algerian press also published a purported confession from one of three captured militants from the Ain Amenas gas complex attack. The Tunisian said that new attacks were being planned against Tunisia itself.