Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s third annual congress is scheduled for this weekend, but the Tunisian government has declined to grant the group a permit for the gathering. Two days ago, Agence France Presse (AFP) interviewed an Ansar al Sharia leader named Sami Essid to get his reaction to this development. AFP described Essid as “one of the organizers” of the rally.
Essid said that Ansar al Sharia plans to move forward with the gathering despite interference from the Islamist government. “On Sunday, we will God willing hold our congress and there will be more than 40,000 of us in Kairouan,” AFP quoted Essid as saying. “We do not need any authorization to organize our meeting.”
AFP did not offer many details about Essid, other than to say he “is close to the hardline group’s fugitive leader” Seifullah Ben Hassine, a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi. Who is Essid? He is almost certainly the same man known in the West as Sami Ben Khemais Essid, a notorious al Qaeda operative who was convicted in Italy of plotting to attack the US Embassy in Rome.
I wrote about Essid’s Ansar al Sharia role and al Qaeda dossier previously. [See LWJ report, From al Qaeda in Italy to Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.] In my piece, you can see pictures of Essid alongside Ben Hassine at an Ansar al Sharia rally.
You can read the UN’s designation page for the al Qaeda-linked Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG) here. That UN page mentions Essid’s role within the TCG, which was co-founded by Ben Hassine. A US Treasury Department page lists Essid as one of the “terrorist leaders designated for their close operational ties to Al Qaeda.”
And below, I’ve included a screen shot from the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism report for 2001. The report included a special section on Essid’s terrorist role, saying he “headed al Qaeda operations in Italy.”
Magharebia has also published some quotes from Essid on Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s upcoming congress. I included those quotes in a piece earlier this week. According to Magharebia, Essid criticized Tunisian interior minister Lofti Ben Jeddou for interfering with Ansar al Sharia’s plans.
“He has declared war on Muslims in Tunisia,” Essid said of Ben Jeddou. As in AFP‘s account, Magharebia reported that Essid vowed Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s third annual congress will be held as planned on May 19. However, Essid said, the group’s leader will not be in attendance.
“Abu Iyad (Hassine), a leader of Ansar al Sharia who is wanted by the security forces, won’t attend the third annual congress of the group,” Essid said. “The only reason for that is that he loves Tunisia and doesn’t want to confuse his supporters if he gets arrested by the security forces before them.”
In its account of Essid’s interview, AFP added the following observation concerning last year’s Ansar al Sharia rally:
Thousands attended Ansar al Sharia’s gathering in 2012, some in Afghan military garb, waving swords and chanting slogans that included: “We are all children of Osama (bin Laden).”
Shocking, I know.
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