Ansar al-Shariah (Tunisia)

Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia (AST) was a Salafi-jihadist militant organization operating in Tunisia.

AT A GLANCE

Overview

Brief Summary of the Organization's History

Organization

How does a group organize? Who leads it? How does it finance operations?

Strategy

How does a group fight? What are its aims and ideologies? What are some of its major attacks?

Major Attacks

What are the group's most famous attacks? What are some key attacks in the group's evolution?

Interactions

What is the group's relationship with the community? How does it interact with other groups?

Maps

What is the group's relationship with other militants over time?

Key Statistics

2011 First Recorded Activity
2012 First Attack
2015 Last Recorded Activity

Contact

Send a message to the Mapping Militants team.

How to Cite:

Mapping Militant Organizations. “Ansar al-Shariah (Tunisia).” Stanford University. Last modified August 2018. <https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/ansar-al-shariah-tunisia>

Overview

Brief History

    Overview
  • Overview
  • Narrative

Overview

FormedApril 2011
Disbanded2015
First AttackSeptember 14, 2012: Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, the leader of AST, organized riots and looting targeting the U.S. embassy and a nearby American school in Tunis, following an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi (4 killed, 29 wounded).
Last AttackJuly 16, 2014: Militants used rifles and grenades to attack Tunisian soldiers at military checkpoints near the Tunisian border with Algeria (14 killed, unknown wounded).
UpdatedJuly 28, 2018

Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia (AST) was a Salafi-jihadist militant organization established in 2011 that combined community service, proselytization, and violence to promote its Salafi ideology and goals in Tunisia. The group aimed to establish Shariah law in Tunisia and promoted the idea of global jihad. The group targeted the Tunisian government and armed forces, utilizing a dawa, or charitable works, campaign to gain trust among Tunisian communities. Since its establishment, AST supported Al Qaeda; however in 2014, multiple AST leaders, including AST spokesman Seifeddine Rais, swore loyalty to IS. Many left the group to fight in Syria. It is unclear whether the group continues to operate secretly or its members have dispersed to join other jihad groups.

Narrative

Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia (AST) was a Salafi-jihadist militant organization established in 2011 that combined community service, proselytization, and violence to promote its Salafi ideology and goals in Tunisia. The group aimed to establish Shariah law in Tunisia and promoted the idea of global jihad. AST was not formally affiliated with the Ansar al-Shariah organizations operating in Libya, Yemen and Egypt. However, AST and Ansar al-Shariah in Libya (ASL) reportedly shared operational, financial, and logistical links.[i]

Plans to create AST arose in 2006 in a Tunisian prison, when future leader Seifallah Ben Hussein conceptualized the organization with twenty other Islamist prisoners. After the Tunisian revolution in 2011, the prisoners were freed and began to build the group; AST officially became active in April 2011. AST had support from Shaikh Khattab Idriss, one of the most influential Salafi clerics in Tunisia and began meeting with the powerful political party al-Nahda. (The two later grew apart when al-Nahda gained power in the government and its connection to the increasingly violent militant group became a liability.[ii]) AST quickly established a public relations system, creating a Facebook page and the “al-Qayrawan Media Foundation,” which helped it grow to a reported 40,000-50,000 members by 2012.[iii]

AST’s flexible membership system bolstered the group’s recruitment. Individuals pursued AST’s mission in a variety of ways, from joining military operations to teaching religion classes in their communities. AST typically sent its fighters to operate outside Tunisia. For example, several thousand militants reportedly participated in training camps in Libya and joined the Syrian Civil War.[iv] However, AST members more frequently promoted its ideology through lectures, charity, publications, and online posts. According to AST leader Tunisi, the group was organized around the idea that “Tunisia is a land of dawa (charity in the name of Islam), not a land of jihad.”[v]

While AST claimed responsibility for few attacks, the Tunisian government and the media implicated the group in multiple suicide bombings, small arms attacks, and kidnappings in Tunisia. Most infamously, the U.S. government confirmed that Hussein orchestrated rioting and attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis on September 14, 2012, which killed 2 and wounded 29, following the riots at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi.[vi] The Tunisian government blamed AST for the assassination of two Tunisian politicians in 2013 and subsequently designated the group a foreign terrorist organization.[vii]

Following this designation, the Tunisian government cracked down on both the organization’s dawa activities and purported militant operations. Hussein went into hiding and AST shifted from highly publicized dawa events and social media publications to declarations of solidarity with other Salafis around the world and calls for cooperation among militant groups.[viii] In light of its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, AST also confirmed its loyalty to Al Qaeda (AQ).[ix] In order to avoid the Tunisian military, in 2013, Hussein fled to Libya, where he began calling for reconciliation and cooperation between the Islamic State (IS) and other Islamist militant organizations throughout North Africa.[x]

In 2014, AST began targeting the Tunisian government and military in its attacks and further developed its relationship with IS. Multiple AST leaders, including AST’s spokesman, Seifeddine Rais, swore loyalty to IS, and many left the group to fight in Syria. [xi] Although AST has backed IS on social media in past years, the extent of its connection to the group is unknown.[xii]

In August 2014, AST also began to operate under the name Shabab al-Tawhid, reportedly to conceal its actions from the Tunisian government and media. However, the media continued to refer to the group as Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia.[xiii] The Tunisian government’s crackdown and the alleged death of AST leader Hussein in June 2015 forced AST to move its operations underground.[xiv] The Tunisian government allegedly deployed 100,000 security forces to limit militant activity and defend tourist sites. Following deadly attacks in 2015 in Sousse and Bardo by Ajnad al-Khilafah, a militant group which emerged from AST, the government reportedly launched 700 security operations, arrested hundreds of suspected militants, and closed over 80 mosques suspected of supporting jihadism.[xv] It is unclear whether the group continues to operate secretly or its members have dispersed to join other jihad groups.[xvi]



[i] Irshaid, Faisal. "Profile: Libya's Ansar al-Sharia." BBC News, 13 June 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014; Carlino, Ludovico. "Ansar Al-Shari'a: Transforming Libya into a Land of Jihad." The Jamestown Foundation, 9 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Aug. 2016; “Al-Qaeda in Libya: A Profile.” Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, Aug. 2012. Web. 10 Aug. 2016; "Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya (ASL)." Counter Extremism Project, 2015. Web. 10 Aug. 2016; "Libya suicide blasts leave 40 soldiers dead." Al Jazeera, 3 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

[ii] Zellin, Aaron. "Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar Al-Sharia." The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

[iii] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; Zellin, Aaron. "Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar Al-Sharia." The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

[iv] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[v] Zellin, Aaron. "Meeting Tunisia's Ansar Al-Shariah." Foreign Policy, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[vi] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; "Tunisia Blacklists Salafist Group." BBC News, 27 Apr. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[vii] "Tunisia Blacklists Salafist Group." BBC News. 27 Aug. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[viii] Joscelyn, Thomas. "Ansar al Sharia Tunisia leader says gains in Iraq should be cause for jihadist reconciliation." Long War Journal, 14 June 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2014; Zellin, Aaron. "Shabab Al-Tawhid: The Rebranding of Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia?" The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 09 May 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

[ix] Joscelyn, Thomas. "Ansar Al Sharia Responds to Tunisian Government." The Long War Journal, 3 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

[x] Joscelyn, Thomas. "Ansar al Sharia Tunisia leader says gains in Iraq should be cause for jihadist reconciliation." Long War Journal, 14 June 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2014; Zellin, Aaron. "Shabab al-Tawhid: The Rebranding of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia?" The Washington Institute, 9 May 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

[xi]  Roggio, Bill. "Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria." The Long War Journal, 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

[xii] Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, et al. “Raising the Stakes: Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s Shift to Jihad.” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism--The Hague, Feb. 2014. Web. 23 July 2018; "Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)." Counter Extremism Project, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2016; Zellin, Aaron. "Shabab Al-Tawhid: The Rebranding of Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia?" The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 9 May 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

[xiii] Zellin, Aaron. "Shabab al-Tawhid: The Rebranding of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia?” The Washington Institute, 9 May 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

[xiv] Petre, Christine. “Tunisian Salafism: the rise and fall of Ansar al-Sharia.” FRIDE, Oct. 2015. Web. 23 July 2018.

[xv] Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, and Bridget Moreng. “Tunisian Jihadism after the Sousse Massacre.” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism--The Hague, Oct. 2015. Web. 24 July 2018.

[xvi] Spencer, Richard. "Senior Tunisian Jihadist and Osama Bin Laden Associate 'killed by US Strike in Libya'" The Telegraph, 3 July 2015. Web. 23 Aug. 2016; Petre, Christine. “Tunisian Salafism: the rise and fall of Ansar al-Sharia.” FRIDE, Oct. 2015. Web. 23 July 2018.

 

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Seifallah Ben Hussein (2011 to June 2015)
  • Seifeddine Rais (Unknown to July 2014)
  • Kamel Zarrouk (Unknown to 2014)
  • Shaikh Khattab Idriss (Unknown to Present)
  • Sami Ben Khemais Essid (Unknown to Unknown)
  • Mehdi Kammoun (Unknown to Unknown)

Leadership

This section describes various leaders, their deputies, and other important officials in the militant organization.

Seifallah Ben Hussein (2011 to June 2015)

Hussein, more commonly known as Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, was a Tunisian militant who trained and fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, becoming a top AQ lieutenant in 2001. After escaping Tora Bora with Osama bin Laden in 2001, he was arrested in Turkey and imprisoned in Tunisia. He was released following the 2011 revolution in Tunisia and immediately formed AST. The State Department implicated Hussein as the mastermind behind the September 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tunis.[i] Following Tunisia’s designation of AST as a terrorist organization, Hussein went into hiding in Libya. He was reportedly killed in an airstrike in Libya in June 2015.[ii]



[i] Joscelyn, Thomas. "State Department designates 3 Ansar al Sharia organizations, leaders ." The Long War Journal, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 July 2018.

[ii] Spencer, Richard. "Senior Tunisian Jihadist and Osama Bin Laden Associate 'killed by US Strike in Libya'" The Telegraph, 3 July 2015. Web. 23 Aug. 2016; Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

 

Seifeddine Rais (Unknown to July 2014)

Rais was the spokesman for AST. He declared his loyalty to IS on July 8, 2014.[i]



[i] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

 

Kamel Zarrouk (Unknown to 2014)

Allegedly AST’s second-in-command, Zarrouk was pursued by the Tunisian government before reportedly traveling to Syria to fight alongside IS in 2014.[i]



[i] Roggio, Bill. "Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria." The Long War Journal, 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

 

Shaikh Khattab Idriss (Unknown to Present)

Idriss, also known as al-Khatib al-Idrissi, was one of the most influential Salafi clerics in Tunisia. There are conflicting reports on his position in the group. At the very least, he advertised for the group, appeared at events, and served as a spiritual inspiration for the organization.[i]



[i] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; Zellin, Aaron. "Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar Al-Sharia." The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

 

Sami Ben Khemais Essid (Unknown to Unknown)

Essid was a senior leader in AST.[i] He fought in Afghanistan for two years and trained as a recruiter for AQ before the U.S. identified him as the head of AQ operations in Italy, where he plotted an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He was sentenced in an Italian court and deported to Tunisia in 2008, but was subsequently freed from prison after the 2011 Tunisian revolution.[ii]



[i] Joscelyn, Thomas. "State Department designates 3 Ansar al Sharia organizations, leaders ." The Long War Journal, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 July 2018.

[ii] Joscelyn, Thomas. "From Al Qaeda in Italy to Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia." The Long War Journal, 21 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

 

Mehdi Kammoun (Unknown to Unknown)

Kammoun was a senior AST leader and an AQ operative in Italy along with Essid. He had previously been a member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which later became AQIM. After being convicted and sentenced for organizing an AQ cell in Italy, he served part of his sentence in Tunisia before being freed after the Tunisian uprising.[i]



[i] Joscelyn, Thomas. "From Al Qaeda in Italy to Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia." The Long War Journal, 21 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

 

    Name Changes
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Name Changes

August 2014: Shabab al-Tawhid. AST reportedly began to operate under a second name in an effort to conceal its actions, after the Tunisian government designated it a terrorist organization. The media continued to refer to the group as Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia.[i]



[i] Zellin, Aaron. "Shabab al-Tawhid: The Rebranding of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia?” The Washington Institute, 9 May 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

 

Size Estimates

  • 2012: 30,000-40,000 (New York Times)[i]
  • 2013: 1,000 (Foreign Policy)[ii]
  • 2014: 70,000 (The Economist)[iii]


[i] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[ii] "Meeting Tunisia's Ansar al-Sharia". Foreign Policy. 8 March 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2014.

[iii] "The Salafist Struggle." The Economist. 01 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.

 

Resources

AST received most of its funding from revenue from goods smuggling, private Tunisian donors, and support from AQIM.[i]



[i] "Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)." Counter Extremism Project, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.

 

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences.

AST was active throughout Tunisia. The group carried out attacks in Sousse, Sidi Bou Zid, and Tripoli and organized community outreach campaigns in Tunis, Sousse, Sidi Bouzid, al-Qayrawan, and Bizerte. Some sources suggest the Tunisian city of Kairouan served as AST’s center of operations until 2015.[i] After the Tunisian government designated AST a terrorist group in August 2013 Hussein went into hiding but continued to direct the organization from Benghazi and Tripoli, in Libya, until 2015.[ii]



[i] Porter, Tom. "Tunisia attack: UK links to Seifeddine Rezgui terror group Ansar al-Shariai emerge." IB Times, 01 July 2015. Web. 23 July 2018.

[ii] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

 

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

AST was a Salafi-Jihadist militant organization that aimed to establish Shariah law in Tunisia and promote global jihad.[i] The group combined community service, proselytization, and violence to promote its Salafi ideology and goals in Tunisia. While AST supported AQ’s goal of inspiring Muslims globally to attack enemies of Islam, it focused initially on missionary activities and local recruitment.[ii] The group had close ties to Shaikh Khattab Idris, one of the most influential Salafi clerics in Tunisia.[iii]



[i] Zellin, Aaron. "Meeting Tunisia's Ansar Al-Shariah." Foreign Policy, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[ii] Zellin, Aaron. "Meeting Tunisia's Ansar Al-Shariah." Foreign Policy, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[iii] Zellin, Aaron. "Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar Al-Sharia." The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

 

Political Activities

At its outset, AST had close ties to the political party al-Nahda, formed when future members of both groups were imprisoned together under the Ben Ali regime in 2006. The groups reportedly held meetings after they were released from prison in 2011. However, as al-Nahda gained power in government and AST began to rely on more violent tactics, the relationship became a liability for al-Nahda. The political party designated AST a terrorist organization in August 2013.[i]



[i] Zellin, Aaron. "Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar Al-Sharia." The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

 

Targets and Tactics

The group combined community service, proselytization, and violence to promote its Salafi ideology and goals in Tunisia, while maintaining positive relationships with Tunisian communities. The majority of its member typically proselytized and performed public services such as providing religious education and social services, rather than engaging in terrorism.[i] Although AST claimed responsibility for few attacks, the Tunisian government and media implicated the group for various suicide bombings, small arms attacks and kidnappings. The militant organization claimed responsibility for the assassination of two politicians left-wing politicians. AST reportedly targeted the Tunisian government, security forces, Tunisian political figures, religious sites, and groups representing Western influence, such as tourists and foreign consulates.[ii] AST also recruited Tunisian youth to fight in Syria.



[i] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; Zellin, Aaron. "Meeting Tunisia's Ansar Al-Shariah." Foreign Policy, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[ii] "Attacks in Tunisia." GTD Search Results. Global Terrorism Database, n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

 

Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks

Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization's history. It is not a comprehensive listing, but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

September 14, 2012: Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, leader of AST, organized riots and looting targeting the U.S. Embassy and a nearby American school in Tunis following the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi (4 killed, 29 wounded).[i]

February 6, 2013: AST shot and killed secular, leftist politician Chokri Belaid, creating political turmoil in the government (1 killed, 0 wounded).[ii]

July 25, 2013: AST assassinated another left-wing politician, Mohamed Brahmi. The Tunisian government blamed AST for the attack and designated the group a terrorist organization as a result of its participation in both this attack and the earlier assassination of Chokri Belaid. AST later claimed responsibility for this attack and the assassination of Belaid in a video published in December 2014 (1 killed, 0 wounded).[iii]

October 23, 2013: Militants attacked the Tunisian National Guard in Sidi Ali Bin Aoun, Sidi Bou Zid, Tunisia, killing 8 soldiers (8 killed, 0 wounded).[iv]

October 30, 2013: Two suicide bombers targeted a hotel beach in Sousse, Tunisia. Only one detonated his bomb, and he was the only casualty. Five AST members were arrested in relation to the bombing (1 killed, 0 wounded).[v]

March 21, 2014: AST militants allegedly kidnapped the secretary of the Tunisian ambassador, Mohamed bin Sheikh in Tripoli, Libya. Sheikh was ultimately released on June 29, 2014 (no casualties).[vi]

July 16, 2014: Militants used rifles and grenades to attack Tunisian soldiers at military checkpoints near the Tunisian border with Algeria (14 killed, unknown wounded).[vii]



[i] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; "Tunisia Blacklists Salafist Group." BBC News, 27 Apr. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[ii] "Ansar Al-Sharia Blamed for Tunisia Killings." Al Jazeera, 27 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Aug. 2014; Gall, Carlotta. "Second Opposition Leader Assassinated in Tunisia." The New York Times, 25 July 2013. Web. 23 July 2018.

[iii] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; Bouazza, Bouazza Ben. "Video claims responsibility for Tunisia killings." AP News, 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 23 July 2018.

[iv] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2016). Global Terrorism Database [Data file].

[v] Joscelyn, Thomas. "Tunisian Government Blames Ansar Al Sharia for Suicide Attacks." Long War Journal, 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

[vi] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2016). Global Terrorism Database [Data file].

[vii] "Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)." Counter Extremism Project, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.

 

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

    Designated/ Listed
  • Designated/ Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relations with Other Groups
  • State Sponsors and External Influences

Designated/ Listed

  • Tunisia’s list of designated terrorist organizations: August 2013 to Present.[i]
  • U.S. State Department Specially Designated Global Terrorist: January 10, 2014 to Present.[ii]
  • United Kingdom Home Office Proscribed Terrorist Organization: April 2014 to Present.[iii]
  • UNSC “ISIL (Da'esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions List”: September 23, 2014 to Present.[iv]


[i] "Tunisia Blacklists Salafist Group." BBC News, 27 Aug. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[ii] "Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar Al-Shari'a Organizations and Leaders." U.S. Department of State, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[iii] "Proscribed Terrorist Organisations." UK Home Office, 22 Dec. 2017. Web. 26 June 2018.

[iv] "Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)." Counter Extremism Project, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.

 

Community Relations

AST earned much of its popular support through its dawa, or charitable work, campaign for the communities of Tunisia. The group provided food and medical services for the poor, organized Islamic lectures for the general public, and ran religious classes for local children.[i] AST also exploited widespread frustration with the Tunisian government in order to attract recruits.

AST distributed its printed propaganda in markets and published its materials online, establishing itself as a charitable rather than violent organization. AST’s media branch, the al-Qayrawan Media Foundation handled the group’s social media and propaganda.[ii]



[i] Gall, Carlotta. "Tunisia Fears Attacks by Citizens Flocking to Jihad." The New York Times, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; Zellin, Aaron. "Meeting Tunisia's Ansar Al-Shariah." Foreign Policy, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.

[ii] Zellin, Aaron. "Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar Al-Sharia." The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

 

Relations with Other Groups

Like many groups in North Africa, AST had ties to Al Qaeda (AQ). AST leader Hussein reportedly had relationships with AQ leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Two other AST leaders, Sami Ben Khemais Essid and Mehdi Kammoun, were convicted for participating in and running AQ operations in Italy before returning to Tunisia and joining AST.[i] Although it was not formally affiliated with AQ, AST publicly stated its loyalty to the group on its social media pages.[ii]

Hussein swore an oath of allegiance to the emir of AQ-affiliate group, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The AST leader also worked with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former AQIM commander and founder of the Al Mourabitoun Battalion (AMB).[iii]

Unlike most other jihadi groups, AST maintained positive relations with both AQ and the Islamic State (IS), which are known to use their regional affiliates to compete and fight one another. AST publicly supported IS and encouraged members to go to Syria to fight with the group.[iv] In a 2013 audio message, Hussein encouraged AQ and IS leaders to settle their disputes in an amicable manner.[v] In July 2014, AST’s spokesman, Seifeddine Rais, swore loyalty to IS; it is unclear whether he spoke on behalf of AST. Following his pledge, a number of AST leaders left to fight in Syria and dedicated themselves to IS. Although AST backed IS on social media, the extent of their connection is unknown.[vi]

AST was not formally affiliated with the Ansar al-Shariah organizations operating in Libya, Yemen and Egypt. However, all groups employed methods of dawa. AST and Ansar al-Shariah in Libya (ASL) reportedly shared some operational, financial, and logistical links, but the extent of their relationship is unclear. ASL allegedly sold weapons to AST.[vii]



[i] Joscelyn, Thomas. "Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Releases Pictures of FBI Agents." The Long War Journal, 23 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

[ii] "Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)." Counter Extremism Project, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.

[iii] "Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar Al-Shari'a Organizations and Leaders." U.S. Department of State, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; Wolf, Anne. "Tunisia: Signs of Domestic Radicalization Post-Revolution." Combating Terrorism Center, Jan. 2013. Web. 23 July 2018; Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, et al. “Raising the Stakes: Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s Shift to Jihad.” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism--The Hague, Feb. 2014. Web. 23 July 2018; Joscelyn, Thomas. "AQIM battalion takes credit for killing 4 Tunisian security officers." The Long War Journal, 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 July 2018.

[iv] Roggio, Bill. "Ansar Al Sharia Tunisia Deputy Leader Reportedly in Syria." The Long War Journal, 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

[v]  Petre, Christine. "Tunisian Salafism: the rise and fall of Ansar al-Sharia." FRIDE, Oct. 2015. Web. 23 July 2018.

[vi] Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, et al. “Raising the Stakes: Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s Shift to Jihad.” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism--The Hague, Feb. 2014. Web. 23 July 2018; "Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)." Counter Extremism Project, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2016; Zellin, Aaron. "Shabab Al-Tawhid: The Rebranding of Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia?" The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 9 May 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.

[vii] Zellin, Aaron. "Meeting Tunisia's Ansar Al-Shariah." Foreign Policy, 08 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014; Irshaid, Faisal. "Profile: Libya's Ansar al-Sharia." BBC News, 13 June 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014; Carlino, Ludovico. "Ansar Al-Shari'a: Transforming Libya into a Land of Jihad." The Jamestown Foundation, 9 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Aug. 2016; United States of America. Library of Congress. Federal Research Division. Al-Qaeda in Libya: A Profile, Aug. 2012. Web. 10 Aug. 2016; "Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya (ASL)." Counter Extremism Project, 2015. Web. 10 Aug. 2016; "Libya suicide blasts leave 40 soldiers dead." Al Jazeera, 03 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

 

State Sponsors and External Influences

There are no publicly available external influences for this group.

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that “map” relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.

Evolving Militant Interactions

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Last updated August 2018