The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a martyrdom statement for a Tunisian fighter who executed a suicide attack on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Tunisian suicide bomber said that for practical purposes, the ISIL and the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, another al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, are “without differences.”
The ISIL released the martyrdom statement for Hamza al ‘Awni, who is also known as Abu Hajer al Tunisi, on July 24 through the Al Masada Media Foundation, “a jihadist media group affiliated with the Shumukh al Islam Network,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated the video. Shumukh al Islam is associated with al Qaeda.
Al ‘Awni was born in the Tunisian coastal city of Sousse, “studied in the High Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology, and he graduated as an engineer first class in 2011, and then he worked in a company making a monthly salary of up to 1000 Tunisian dinars,” the statement said, according to SITE.
“He thought about jihad since his childhood,” the statement continued. Al ‘Awni sought to wage jihad in Chechnya in 2003, “when he was 16-years old,” but he failed.
Al ‘Awni entered Syria in September 2012, and wanted to conduct a suicide attack after he “saw that martyrdom-seeking operations harm the enemy.” He executed his suicide attack on July 10, which the ISIL claimed was his 27th birthday as well as the first day of Ramadan.
The ISIL did not detail where the suicide attack took place, what the target was, or the number of casualties incurred in the bombing. No suicide attack was reported in the media on July 10.
According to the ISIL, al ‘Awni disapproved of the feud between the emir of the ISIL, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and the leader of the Al Nusrah Front, Abu Muhammad al Julani. The two leaders have been at odds since al Baghdadi attempted to subsume the Al Nusrah Front into the ranks of the ISIL. Al Julani rejected Baghdadi’s attempt, and one month later, Ayman al Zawahiri ruled in al Julani’s favor and appointed a longtime Syrian jihadist to mediate the disppute. Al Baghdadi dismissed Zawahiri’s ruling, and the two groups have operated as separate entities since [see LWJ report, Islamic State of Iraq leader defies Zawahiri in alleged audio message].
“In my opinion, I don’t see that the two sheikhs al Julani and al Baghdadi are right … I work with both of them, and the State and the Front are one to me without differences,” the ISIL claimed that al ‘Awni said to one of his fellow jihadists.
While al ‘Awni’s claim cannot be verified, there appears to be little fallout from the dispute between al Julani and al Baghdadi. A large percentage of the Al Nusrah Front’s fighters are said to have joined the ISIL, but no fighting between the two groups has been reported.
Additionally, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Al Nusrah Front have been reported to be fighting alongside each other in several theaters of the Syrian civil war. In northern Syria near the Turkish border, the two al Qaeda affiliates battled against a Marxist Kurdish rebel group and operate a joint base near Qahtaniya.
Also, the ISIL recently released a video of the two al Qaeda affiliates celebrating Ramadan in the city of Aleppo. Three members of each jihadist group have a friendly tug of war as a crowd watches. The event is held by an ISIL member from Tunisia who is known as Abu Waqas
Al ‘Awni is the second foreign fighter from Tunisia to be featured in jihadist propaganda within a week. On July 18, the Muhajireen Army, an al Qaeda-linked group led by a Chechen commander, released a video of Abu Abdullah al Tunisi. In the video, he advocated for Tunisian clerics and youth to join the jihad in Syria, and urged women to support them [see LWJ report, Tunisian jihadist calls for clerics, youth to fight in Syria].
While the exact number of Tunisians in Syria is unknown, the Tunisian government has estimated that between 500 and 800 fighters are there. The government’s estimate is probably low, however, as “human rights organizations and local civil associations believe that the number is more than 3,000 young people, with about 100 of them killed in recent months,” Magharebia reported in June.
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