Ansar al Sharia Tunisia has honored two deceased senior al Qaeda leaders on its Facebook page this week. The first is Said al Shihri, an ex-Guantanamo detainee who cofounded al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and served as the group’s deputy emir, or second-in-command. Al Shihri was reportedly wounded during a counterterrorism operation inside Yemen late last year and succumbed to his wounds.
The second senior al Qaeda leader honored by Ansar al Sharia Tunisia is Khalid bin Abdul Rahman al Husainan (a.k.a. Abu Zeid al Kuwaiti), who was reportedly killed in a drone strike late last year. Husainan was one of al Qaeda central’s top leaders. His death has not yet been confirmed by al Qaeda.
Earlier this week, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia posted at least two entries to its Facebook page honoring al Shihri. The group also changed the banner on top of its Facebook page to commemorate al Shihri’s death, and has since changed it to another, unrelated design.
A screen shot of this memorial for al Shihri was captured by The Long War Journal and can be seen at the top of this article. Two other posts dealing with al Shihri’s death were also published on the group’s Facebook page. One of them is shown here.
Earlier today, jihadists posted pictures that “appear to be screen captures taken from a mobile phone, and show a deceased man who looks like Husainan, covered with blankets,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Those pictures were quickly reposted by Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.
A screen shot of one of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s Facebook posts purportedly showing a deceased Husainan is included here.
A review of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s Facebook page reveals many other posts dedicated to the global jihad mixed among posts dealing with the group’s provision of social services.
For instance, one post shows Mohammed al Zawahiri, the brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, calling on Muslims to resist France’s intervention in Mali. That video was also posted to Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s Facebook page and other jihadist sites.
Another post is dedicated to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the al Qaeda commander who seized a natural gas field in eastern Algeria earlier this month. “We in al Qaeda announce that we carried out the blessed commando operation,” Belmokhtar proclaimed in a video claiming credit for the assault that killed dozens.
Still other posts deal with the jihad in Syria, Mali, and elsewhere. Several of the group’s Facebook posts are dedicated to jihadist martyrs. The screen shot for one such post is shown here.
There are many additional examples in this vein.
In addition to its global jihadist content, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia posts pictures of its members providing social services, including medical assistance, to the local populace. Several posts feature Seifullah Ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi), the group’s leader, who has been designated an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist by the United Nations.
Benghazi-related online posts
Beginning in December, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia posted online a series of provocative posts concerning Ali Ani al Harzi, who is one the chief suspects in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. US officials reportedly requested that Harzi be detained in Turkey in October of last year after it was learned that he posted real-time updates during the assault.
Three FBI agents interviewed Harzi in late December. Shortly thereafter, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia released photos of the FBI agents online. The photos were released on jihadist forums by the group’s official media arm, and were accompanied by a denunciation of the Tunisian government for allowing the Americans to question the “brother” Harzi.
Also in December, the organization released a video on its YouTube page of a lawyer confirming that the FBI had interviewed Harzi. In the YouTube video, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia asked God to free Harzi.
Harzi was freed by a Tunisian court on Jan. 8, 2013. And Ansar al Sharia Tunisia posted a video of the newly freed Harzi being congratulated by his compatriots on its Facebook page.
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, which orchestrated the Sept. 14, 2012 assault on the US Embassy in Tunis, is headed by Seifullah ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi), who has longstanding ties to al Qaeda. In 2000, Hassine co-founded the Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG), an al Qaeda-affiliated group that participated in the Sept. 9, 2001 assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan.
Hassine was arrested in Turkey in 2003 and deported to Tunisia, where he was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison. Hassine was released from prison in 2011, in the wake of the Tunisian revolution.
According to the Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI), Hassine eulogized Osama bin Laden after the al Qaeda master was killed in May 2011. “Let the entire world celebrate the death of one of our Ummah’s leaders,” Hassine said, “since the death and martyrdom of our leaders for the sake of this straight path … is an indication of the truthfulness of our way.”
MEMRI noted that in the eulogy, Hassine added that the death of bin Laden and other “brothers and leaders,” such as al Qaeda in Iraq leaders Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, should compel Muslims to fight on. “This is the allegiance, and that is the promise to Allah – do not regress after the death of your sheikh [i.e., bin Laden], or the deaths of your leaders,” Hassine said. “Remain steadfast – and die for [the same cause] for which the best among you died.”
Two other Ansar al Sharia Tunisia leaders are Sami Ben Khemais Essid and Mehdi Kammoun, both of whom were convicted by Italian courts for their participation in al Qaeda’s operations in Italy. Essid was the head of al Qaeda in Italy before his arrest. According to the US State Department and other sources, Essid plotted to attack the US Embassy in Rome in early 2001. Both Essid and Kammoun were convicted in Italy of terrorism charges, deported to Tunisia for further imprisonment, but released in 2011 after the Tunisian revolution.
After the Sept. 14, 2012 assault on the US Embassy in Tunis, the Tunisian government imprisoned numerous Ansar al Sharia members. One of them is Bilel Chaouachi, a young imam who has openly praised Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
On Dec. 21, 2012, the Tunisian government announced that it had arrested members of an al Qaeda terrorist cell who had been trained by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and “were active within” Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.