Tunisian ‘martyrs’ celebrated by Ansar al Sharia

In early February, a video of an interview with Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s leader Seifallah ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi) was released online after it had been banned by government officials. Hassine, who is wanted for instigating the Sept. 14, 2012 assault on the US Embassy in Tunis, was asked about the migration of young Tunisians to the jihadist battlefields in Syria and Mali. He responded by discouraging the practice, saying Tunisia’s Salafi jihadists were needed at home and that the wars abroad have “emptied Tunisia of its young.”

A review of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s official Facebook page and other online sources tells a different story. Hassine’s organization frequently celebrates the “martyrdom” of Tunisians, especially those who fought in Syria.

In Facebook entries posted this week, the group showcased Tunisians killed in Syria. And Ansar al Sharia’s logos accompanied the young Tunisians’ images, thereby indicating the organization’s official seal of approval.

One post announces the death of a Tunisian who fought in Deir al Zour, a city located on the Euphrates River that the Al Nusrah Front is currently seeking to capture. The Facebook posting says that he fought for the Hamza Bin Abdul Muttalib Brigade.

Tunisian Martyred in Syria 2.JPG

Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s Facebook post honoring a Tunisian who died while fighting for the Hamza Bin Abdul Muttalib Brigade in Deir al Zour, Syria.

In a separate but related posting, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia embedded a video of what appears to be the same Tunisian and asked Allah to accept his “martyrdom.” The video itself was not produced by Ansar al Sharia, but it shows the recruit lying dead in the rubble of a building, with his weapon by his side.

Another Facebook post shows a Tunisian who was apparently killed while fighting Bashar al Assad’s organized thugs, or Shabiha. The recruit is shown holding a grenade in the photo and, in the accompanying text, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia asks Allah to accept his death in Syria, where he waged jihad.

Martyr Message 4 Captured 13-3-13.JPG

An Ansar al Sharia Tunisia web banner honoring a Tunisian jihadist who died in Syria.

In February, one of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s sister Facebook pages posted a banner that reads, “Tunisian blood continues to irrigate the land of al Sham (Syria).” The banner features eight Tunisians, and Ansar al Sharia Tunisia said they are “among the men of Tunisia who answered the call of the oppressed in Syria.”

As with the other Tunisian “martyrs” who have died in Syria, Hassine’s group prayed that Allah would “accept them among the martyrs.” Some of the men were also featured in separate Facebook postings by Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.

Tunisians martyred in Syria.JPG

A poster honoring eight Tunisians who died fighting in Syria.

Estimates of the number of Tunisians fighting in Syria vary greatly, from dozens to hundreds. Some of these estimates are undoubtedly exaggerations.

But Tunisians waging jihad abroad remains a problem, with recruits taking part in the fighting in Mali and Syria, as well as terrorist attacks such as the Sept. 11, 2012 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the January 2013 siege of the In Amenas natural gas field in Algeria. Authorities have indicated that 11 Tunisians took part in the latter attack.

And while Seifallah ben Hassine says he does not want Tunisians going off to fight in foreign lands, his organization openly celebrates the “martyrdom” of men who do.

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

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  • M.H says:

    There is even young Maghrebi women who are being involved into the conflict in Syria. The recent Fatwa from the Saudi wahabi cleric Mohamed Al-Arifi said it was permissible for Islamist Fighters to marry for a few hours with girls as young as 14. He later denied being behind this fatwa. This is allowing gang rape in the name of God.

  • M.H says:

    Al-Qaeda`s marketing is targeting the Maghreb youth. After suffering setbacks in other countries, they are using Syria and Mali to boost its ranks. They are exploiting the international sympathy to recruit new fighters and to use Syria as an incubation stage where it can work on building an organization. Syria now is a part of al-Qaeda long term goal of recruiting an international horizon of fighters, including those from the Maghreb.

  • Moose says:

    Anyone heard of the Sinjar Records? These were al-Qaida records of foreign fighters who entered Iraq in 2006-2007 through the Iraq-Syria border town of Sinjar. Coalition forces captured these personnel files in October 2007. Per capita, Libyans made up the largest percentage of fighters (with a large majority coming from Benghazi and Darna in Eastern Libya) and Tunisians were third. North Africans were also most likely to volunteer their services as suicide bombers.
    Syria was the fourth most represented country per capita in the Sinjar Records. A third of Syrian fighters came from Deir al Zour.

  • mike merlo says:

    Knowing what ‘we’ know now it should be possible to mangle together some kind of matrix, clumsy or otherwise, that would assist in possible future movement(s) and ‘activities.’

  • M.H says:

    In Tunisia there is almost 5000 mosques, 400 are under the control of extremists who use theme for brainwashing, recruitment and preaching for global jihad. Based on the local media,Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Tunisian revolution and the Arab spring is a higher provider for Tunisian fighters in Syria.


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