Ever since August 27th, when Tunisia designated the Salafi jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) a terrorist organization and issued a ban against it, the state’s war has escalated. In some of the most recent incidents, Islamist gunmen killed two police officers in the city of Goubellat, and both the president and prime minister were subsequently chased from the memorial by angry members of the security services who felt that too few resources supported their efforts. One aspect of Tunisia’s fight against AST that deserves particular attention from Western observers centers on allegations that the Tunisian government has made about AST.
There are two separate, but related, sets of allegations: that AST is part of al-Qaeda’s North African network, and that it has been deeply involved in political violence. Since the onset of the Arab Uprisings, U.S. analysts have tended to view the jihadist movement as increasingly diffuse, and to see North African groups like AST or Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia as largely disconnected from al-Qaeda and other jihadist organizations. But if Tunisia’s allegations are correct, they should prompt American analysts to seriously reconsider their assumptions about the shape of jihadism in the region. This article examines two major claims that the Tunisian government has made about AST. […]