Magharebia (Washington DC)

Tunisia Marks Revolution Amid Security Threats

Najjar in Tunis — Tunisia's banned jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia, designated a terrorist organisation by the authorities, gathered Tuesday (December 17th) in central Tunis to mark the third anniversary of the revolution.

In Sidi Bouzid, civil society groups gathered early Tuesday outside the regional governor's headquarters, where 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010 set himself ablaze and ignited the Arab Spring.

For "security reasons", President Moncef Marzouki, outgoing Prime Minister Ali Larayedh and parliamentary speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar decided not to attend the planned commemoration in Sidi Bouzid, AFP reported.

Large numbers of security units were deployed in Sidi Bouzid.

Early on Tuesday, salafist party Hizb ut-Tahrir placed tents at the square of the martyr Mohamed Bouazizi. According to Tunisie Numerique, they too have decided to mark the anniversary by a rally, seizing the opportunity to call for the establishment of a caliphate.

Reports have emerged this week about a Benghazi meeting of Ansar al-Sharia branches from Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.

Representatives of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia chief Seif Allah ben Hassine (aka Abou Iyadh) also attended the three-day event in September.

The September meeting was about "developing a new regional strategy aimed at confronting the Tunisian government and also to facilitate the flow of militant fighters to Syria", German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reported.

Indeed, "Ansar al- Sharia in Tunisia is the same as the one based in Libya. They share leadership and combat units," retired Tunisian Brigadier-General and military analyst Mokhtar Ben Nasr told Al-Masdar.

Ben Nasr added that relations between Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia and Ansar al-Sharia in Libya were tight at the regional and communal levels.

The barricaded terrorist groups in Jebel Chaambi stem from various nationalities, Libyans, Tunisians, Malians and Algerians, he noted.

"It is a testament to the link between these groups," he said.

Security expert Maher Zayoud agreed the co-ordination between extremist groups was close, noting, "You have to go back to the statement of Ansar al- Sharia in Libya last month in which it declared war on army and security forces in Libya and compare it to the statement of Tunisia's Ansar al-Sharia, where it described the army and security forces as Tyrants."

The leader of Libya's Ansar al-Sharia, Mahmoud Baraasi, said last month that Al-Qaeda was a model group. "We only follow Sheikh Osama bin Laden and Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri," declared Baraasi.

"We only recognise our banner in which the Qur'an guides and the sword cuts," he added. He then threatened Libyans, saying, "Either the application of Sharia, or the sword."

"We do not recognise the Libyan state and the infidel government, whether cabinet or parliament," he noted.

The Tunisian interior ministry has accused Ansar al-Sharia of involvement in the assassination of opposition figures Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi and in the killing of army and police elements in Jebel Chaambi on the border with Algeria.

To prevent future attacks on opposition figures, the interior ministry dedicated 600 security elements for the protection of threatened political figures, 95 ℅ of them from the opposition.

Just last week, Tunisian forces dismantled a six-member terrorist cell that planned to conduct a similar attack to the one in Sousse, Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Laroui said.

For his part, Defence Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Rahmouni at the beginning of last week announced, "pre-emptive measures" were in place "to fight terrorist threats".

Tunisia is also working with its neighbours.

"Some information reached the ministry stating the existence of fugitive Algerian terrorists in Tunisia, so we are co-ordinating with Algerian security in this regard," Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said last week in an interview with Sotour magazine.

The border police of Boushebka, Kasserine, arrested an Algerian militant last week, heading to Libya in possession of literature calling for jihad.

Retired National Guard Colonel Ali Ezramdini said, "What Tunisia is experiencing today is an extension of what happened at the beginning of the nineties in Algeria, for terrorism surrounds Tunisia as far as geography is concerned."

Groups with jihadi approach are already "stationed in the area surrounding Tunisia such as Moulethemine, and the sons of the desert", he told Magharebia.

He also added, "These religious groups are based in Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen with one goal, to build an Islamic caliphate from the Atlantic Ocean to Afghanistan."

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