E Najjar in Tunis — After designating Ansar al-Sharia a terrorist organisation, the Tunisian interior ministry divulged on Wednesday (August 28th) more details about the group's link to al-Qaeda.
Authorities also revealed that the radical salafist group was plotting assassinations against 19 high profile figures, ranging from artists to politicians.
The alleged hit list included National Constituent Assembly Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar and Republican Party Secretary-General Maya Jribi, according to TAP.
Tunisia's Director General of the National Security Mustapha Ben Amor said that most of the terrorists involved in assassinations, such as Kamel Gadhgadhi and Aboubaker el-Hakim, were leaders of Ansar al-Sharia who frequented Jebel Chaambi to train in fighting and co-ordinate between terrorist elements.
"Security investigations have confirmed that the financing of Ansar al-Sharia, which was designated a terrorist organisation, comes from external and internal sources," Ben Amor said, adding, "The group is a member of the parent terrorist al-Qaeda, and those terrorists receive training first in Libya and then in Syria where they go to train on the ground."
"We ascertained that the sources of financing for Ansar al-Sharia come from certain Arab countries, such as Yemen, Libya and Mali," Ben Amor confirmed.
Kamel Gadhgadhi "consulted with Abou Iyadh about speeding up the assassination of martyr Chokri Belaid," Ben Amor added. "He asked for modifying the list of assassinations after watching a TV interview in which Belaid talked about visits by preachers from the east to Tunisia. He received approval from Abou Ayadh, who leads Ansar al-Sharia."
Ben Amor said that one of the terrorists involved in assassinating Mohamed Brahmi was known as "al-Somali", a neighbour of the slain politician living in al-Ghazaleh district in Ariana province.
Meanwhile, Interior Ministry spokesperson Mohamed Ali Aroui confirmed in the same press conference that security units have uncovered links between the assassinations, arms smuggling and the terrorist group holed up in Jebel Chaambi.
"Ansar al-Sharia has a security and military wing aimed at seizing power by force," he added, noting that the "interior ministry was able to thwart terrorist plots in several areas as a result of pre-emptive operations".
"The interior ministry is now completely sure that the group has a criminal and terrorist plan to destabilise the country and seize power by force," Aroui said.
Aroui also confirmed that "most Ansar al-Sharia members, including Abou Iyadh, were among those released from prison under the general legislative pardon following the revolution."
Journalist Nebil Zaghdoud said, "Banning the activities of Ansar al-Sharia is done by prohibiting the activities of charities that raise financial and in-kind donations for it and also forbidding Qur'anic associations that have spread like bubbles in more than one city to recruit young people to provide human support for that group."
"Ansar al-Sharia has shown its true face after attacking the US Embassy and assassinating Belaid; before that, it seemed to be engaged in preaching only," Kamel Lamine told Magharebia.
Meanwhile, TAP Gafsa correspondent Ferida Mabrouki said that throughout last year she witnessed salafist groups setting up preaching tents at schools to draw in new male and female recruits.
"Each time, there was a certain topic in those tents," she said. "I remember very well that at one of the tents, the emphasis was on how to support the so-called revolution in Syria. Today, in Gafsa, [authorities] arrested a man suspected of involvement in arranging the travel of young people from the area and other areas to Syria."
She wondered, "How many students and young people travelled to Syria for jihad because of the effect of those tents and other preaching activities before that person was arrested?"