‘Moderate’ Islamist leader in Tunisia strategizes with al Qaeda-linked Salafists

The leader of the supposedly moderate Ennahda political party in Tunisia has been caught on tape strategizing with Salafists to gain control of the country. In the video, he also acknowledged contacts with leaders of al Qaeda-linked groups, including one that attacked the US embassy on Sept. 14 and another that supports the establishment of a global Caliphate.

Rachid Ghannouchi, the co-founder and current leader of Ennahda, the largest political party in Tunisia, is seen on video encouraging a group of Salafists to bide their time and build institutions instead of rushing to take control of the country. The videotape was recorded in January, and released on Oct. 9. Ghannouchi and Ennahda claim to espouse a moderate form of Islam; the party currently holds the office of prime minister.

“The secularists are still controlling the media, economy and administration,” Ghannouchi warned the Salafists, according to Magharebia. “Therefore, controlling them would require more time.” He advised the Salafists to “create television channels, radio stations, schools and universities” to increase their influence.

Ghannouchi also warned that “the police and army’s support for Islamists is not guaranteed, and controlling them would also require more time.” He continued: “I tell our young Salafists to be patient…. Why hurry? Take your time to consolidate what you have gained.”

“The Islamists must fill the country with associations, establish Qur’anic schools everywhere, and invite religious preachers because people are still ignorant of Islam,” Ghannouchi stated.

Ghannouchi also said he supported a constitutional amendment to allow for Sharia, or Islamic law, and heaped scorn on secularists who are tolerant of Islam. He went on to point out that Ennahda’s ascent to power in Tunisia presents an opportunity for Islamists.

“The government is now at the hands of Islamists, the mosques are ours now, and we’ve become the most important entity in the country,” he said.

Meeting with Ansar al Sharia emir Seifallah ben Hassine

In the video, Ghannouchi admitted: “We’ve [Ennahda] met with Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the Salafists, including Sheikh Abu Iyad [al Tunisi] and Sheikh al-Idrissi.”

Sheikh Abu Iyad al Tunisi’s real name is Seifallah ben Hassine, and he is the current emir of Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia. Official documents prepared by the US government and the United Nations show that Hassine has long operated as a part of the al Qaeda network. Hassine co-founded the Tunisian Combatant Group, which was created “in coordination with” al Qaeda, according to the United Nations. Hassine reportedly met with both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Tunisian Combatant Group was implicated in the Sept. 9, 2001 assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was killed by two Tunisians pretending to be journalists. The assassination of Massoud was intended to weaken the Northern Alliance prior to a US invasion of Afghansitan following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the US.

The Tunisian Combatant Group is known to have a presence in Europe. Additionally, at least five current Guantanamo detainees were members of the Tunisian Combatant Group. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda ally orchestrated assault on US embassy in Tunisia, for more information on Hassine and the Tunisian Combatant Group.]

Hassine has rebranded the Tunisian Combatant Group and other Salafists as Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia. The group is responsible for the Sept. 14 attack on the US embassy in Tunisia. The American staff evacuated the embassy unscathed, but the attackers hoisted an al Qaeda-style black flag high above the compound and ransacked American property. Hassine led the attack.

Hizb ut-Tahrir

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international Islamist political party that, like al Qaeda, calls for the establishment of a global Caliphate and the implementation of Islamic law. The group is active in more than 40 countries, and banned in several. While Hizb ut-Tahrir claims it seeks to establish the Caliphate through peaceful means, the group has openly advocated violence against the West.

In October 2008, Hizb ut-Tahrir Pakistan advocated for the government to cut diplomatic and military ties with the West and deploy its nuclear weapons if the US continues to violate Pakistan’s territorial integrity. In an earlier release, Hizb ut-Tahrir urged Pakistan to attack US bases in Bagram and Doha with nuclear weapons and suggested that all of Pakistan’s 160 million citizens should conduct martyrdom operations.

In December 2010, Hizb ut-Tahrir announced that it would hold a meeting at the Royal Library in Copenhagen to “focus on the duty of armed resistance for Muslims in Afghanistan and surrounding nations.” A Hizb-ut-Tahrir spokesman said the Danish government is responsible for sending its troops to die in Afghanistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Ken North says:

    HT is an organization that bears much more scrutiny than it currently receives. While it maintains that it rejects violence, both Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu al Zarqawi were one-time members.
    The “Party of Liberation” has branches in some 45 countries, including the U.S., and provides technical services to at least 8000 Salafist websites worldwide. They produce technically sophisticated and innovative videos on Islam that are world-class motivational messages to Islamic and oppressed youth.
    They are an enterprise that can put tens of thousands of devout committed adherents into the streets in Indonesia and other Asian and Middle Eastern countries. We ignore them at our peril. Reminiscent of the Hitler Youth masquerading as “Boy Scouts” touring England in the late 1930’s, they have a strategic vision unfortunately far greater than our own.

  • mike merlo says:

    whatever happened to “Creative Thinking?” Can’t those clowns in the Intel Community do anything besides OverSeas Spec Ops(Duck Hunting) & ‘Droning’ Targets? Whatever happened to analysis or deductive reasoning? One of the ‘best’ opportunities to eliminate or emasculate the surfacing of individuals or groups inimical to ones interests or designs is in the immediate aftermath of a regime change, successful invasion, natural disaster, political stalemate, etc.,. What a joke Ghannouchi was easily ‘spotted’ miles away from where he is now. The Intel Community has a multi Billion Dollar Budget & ‘they’ spend a majority of their time obsessed with their with all the latest ‘toys & gadgets.’ What a joke!

  • akw says:

    The Islamic Khilafah – A Manifesto for Change – Hizb ut-Tahrir, Britain, First Edition June 2012 – After the Arab Spring – This manifesto demonstrates how Islamic economic, political and social models can be applied to the full range of problems faced by a modern State. These Islamic solutions deliver real progress on a scale and time frame that cannot be matched by Capitalist models, the very models which Islamic parties across the Middle East have been so quick to adopt in power.
    We offer this document to facilitate what we hope will be a robust and fruitful discussion on the practical solutions Islam has to offer, a discussion which is long overdue within the Muslim community, and equally relevant in the wider western world where new thinking is in short supply. In a world in economic, political and social turmoil, we offer a clear blueprint for a modern, prosperous and harmonious society built on a framework from the Creator Allah and the Messenger Muhammad

  • mike merlo says:

    the islamic can’t even “get along” with what it has & has had available to them. What makes you think some overarching dictate, that is really nothing more than The Communist Manifesto masquerading as a dogma & doctrine template preaching “Islam,” is somehow going to remedy or rectify what’s “ailing” the Muslim Ummah? What a joke. More pictogram’s & meaningless musings from a bunch of cave dwellers


Islamic state



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Boko Haram