March 20, 2012
Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 815

The Rise Of the Salafi-Jihadi Movement In Tunisia – The Case Of Ansar Al-Shari'a In Tunisia

By: M. Khayat*

Introduction

Following the Arab Spring, many Islamists and Salafi-jihadis who had been imprisoned under the toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were set free, and their voice, which had been harshly suppressed by those regimes, suddenly became an integral part of the political and social spheres. Social media, primarily Facebook and YouTube, became the Salafis' main outlets for conveying their messages and ideas. Such outlets have allowed them to actively participate, though at first only online, in the events unfolding in their countries.

This report focuses on two prominent Islamists who emerged in Tunisia following its Jasmine Revolution, the organization that they formed, and their messages and positions on several key events in post-revolution Tunisia.

The Tunisian Sheikhs

Sheikh Abu Iyadh Al-Tunisi

According to his Facebook fan page,[1] Sheikh Abu Iyadh (also spelled Ayadh), aka Sayfullah bin Hussein, is a veteran of the jihad [against U.S. troops] in Afghanistan, and has studied with prominent radical Salafi-jihadi cleric Abu Qatada. Abu Iyadh was among the Arab mujahideen who fought alongside the Taliban in 2001; his final battle prior to leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan was in Jalalabad.[2] At that time, according to his Facebook page, Abu Iyadh was wanted in several countries, including Tunisia, the U.K., and Turkey. He was arrested in Turkey [in 2003] and repatriated to Tunisia, where he was sentenced to 43 years in prison. Abu Iyadh was released from prison in early March 2011, after serving eight years of his sentence.[3]

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