Tunisians are growing increasingly alarmed about the presence of al-Qaeda supporters in the country.
A recent video from a self-avowed al-Qaeda member called for holy war against the Tunisian government, raising fears among citizens that extremist violence could escalate.
The June 11th message from 30-year-old Salim Abou Ahmed Ayoub, purportedly the second in command of al-Qaeda in Tunisia, called on citizens to wage a holy war against the government in order to establish an Islamic state and wipe out unbelievers. The online video also directly attacked President Moncef Marzouki, calling for him to be overthrown.
The tape came just a day after al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued his own message threatening Tunisia, and after a discovery by Iraqi intelligence services of invitations to al-Qaeda leaders to go to Tunisia and expand their military operations, in order to establish an Islamic caliphate.
Together with a recent wave of salafist violence, the news is worrying many Tunisians who fear the country could become a target for terrorist attacks.
Salim Abdouli is concerned that al-Qaeda supporters in Tunisia will try to impose their agenda on the state and society through violence.
“Terrorism by hard-line salafist groups in Tunisia will become a reality very soon,” he commented. “We should not underestimate or ignore it, instead dealing with and responding to it before it’s too late.”
Karim Ben Mansour asserted that the threats of al-Qaeda and its supporters, particularly Ayman al-Zawahiri, would negatively impact the situation in Tunisia, whether on the security, political or economic levels. He said it was not easy to have the name of Tunisia repeated by al-Qaeda sheikhs in an audiotape broadcast around the world without having implications on the ground.
“We do not really know how al-Qaeda threats will translate on the ground. Such organisations expert in directing surprise suicide strikes like the holy mantle, and the operations that took place and are taking place in Iraq and Algeria are evidence of this,” Ben Mansour added.
Republican Party Secretary-General Maya Jribi said, “Tunisia is threatened by the danger of terrorism of extremist groups calling for sedition and hatred.”
However, Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamic Ennahda Movement, said in a press conference on June 13th that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was a disaster for Islam and had no influence in Tunisia.
Ghannouchi said there was no place for al-Qaeda “without bringing destruction”, adding that “it entered Afghanistan and occupied, it entered Iraq and occupied, and it entered Somalia and wrought destruction.”
“Al-Qaeda’s project is a project that does not build, a project of demolition and civil war. It has never brought good to Islam,” the Ennahda chief said.
In turn, Ajmi Ourimi, a prominent leader in the Ennahda Movement, said al-Zawahiri’s incitement would fall on deaf ears in Tunisia. He was supported in this by a large number of Tunisians who reject the ideology of al-Qaeda.
“Yes, al-Qaeda is an organisation of destruction not construction for this nation,” remarked Sorour Aloui. “It has only brought the Islamic world strife and the killing of innocents. They are criminals against Muslims, and one day history will hold them accountable.”
Walid Nssibi said, “Al-Qaeda’s time is over, we’ve turned a painful page. Today, the high word is commitment to the spirit of religion and theology, to moderation and managing conflict with wisdom.”