Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 20


Though first indications suggested that Tunisia had avoided a wave of political violence with the overthrow of Tunisian president Zine al-Abidin Ben Ali on January 14, the continuing civil war in neighboring Libya is threatening to spill over into Tunisia as operatives from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) seek to exploit the worsening situation.

A battle between Tunisian troops aided by National Guard forces and an al-Qaeda cell on May 18 began when a member of the local security forces who was helping cell members carry their luggage after they arrived from a town close to Kasserine became concerned with the weight of their bags. He called for assistance, and when other units arrived, the militants opened fire, wounding two soldiers and killing their commander, Colonel Tahar Ayari. Two civilians were also wounded, one severely. According to several reports, the militants were carrying Libyan passports (AFP, May 18; Ennahar [Algiers], May 18; al-Arabiya, May 18). The firefight took place in Rouhia, a small town in the Siliana governorate south of Tunis. Two of the militants were killed, while others were reported to have escaped.

Two suspected al-Qaeda members equipped with an explosives belt and several bombs were arrested near Ramada in southern Tunisia on May 15. Security forces said the two men, a Libyan and an Algerian, were tied to two other suspects who were carrying a homemade bomb when they were arrested a week earlier in Tatouine, 80 miles from the Libyan border (al-Arabiya, May 18; Reuters, May 15).

Tunisian authorities have made a show of tightening security at the border, but continue to allow Libyan rebels to resupply in Tunisia and seek medical attention there for their wounded. However, this has not prevented Tunisia from threatening to report Libya to the UN Security Council for shelling the border region, saying that it viewed this as “belligerent behavior from the Libyan side, which had pledged more than once to prevent its forces from firing in the direction of Tunisia” (al-Jazeera, May 18; al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], May 16).


Somalia’s radical Islamist al-Shabaab movement has promised retaliation against Ugandan civilians and Ugandan troops belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has led the African Union’s military effort to preserve Somalia’s ineffective and endangered Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

In a May 14 statement issued by al-Shabaab’s press office and carried on jihadi websites, the movement declared the Ugandan people’s re-election of Museveni and his party for a fourth term makes the people of Uganda “unanimously complicit in the crimes of their soldiers” in Somalia and was a confirmation of their “commitment to the invasion and oppression of the innocent civilians of Somalia” (, May 14).

Al-Shabaab first issued threats of retaliation against Uganda for its contribution of troops to AMISOM in 2008 (see Terrorism Monitor, September 24, 2008). In July 2010, al-Shabaab terrorists succeeded in carrying out two bombings in Kampala that killed 74 civilians gathered to watch the World Cup of soccer final (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, July 16, 2010).  

The new al-Shabaab statement described the troops of the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) as “paid mercenaries fighting an endless battle on behalf of the West” for a meager salary that can barely support them. Accusing the UPDF of shelling heavily populated residential areas, markets and even hospitals, al-Shabaab promised the Ugandan people would have to repay “ounce for ounce” the blood shed by AMISOM attacks on civilians.  

Included in the statement was a reproduction of an identity card issued to a dead Ugandan corporal whose body is being held by the movement. Al-Shabaab fighters continue to defile the bodies of Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM soldiers killed in action by dragging them through the streets. In one such incident last week, the body was believed to belong to one of two Ugandan officers killed in a clash with al-Shabaab – Abdufita Mohammed, the commander of AMISOM forces in the Bakara market area of Mogadishu, and his intelligence officer, Abdiwahab Sheikh Dole (Daily Monitor [Kampala], May 16).  

Ugandan security forces may have already succeeded in interdicting a new al-Shabaab terrorist effort in Uganda by arresting four young Somali men who had entered the country illegally by crossing through the bush to avoid border control points. Only one of the men possessed a passport, with the other three claiming to have lost theirs (Daily Monitor, May 16; Reuters, May 16).

Brigadier James Mugira, the Ugandan military intelligence chief, stated after the death of Osama bin Laden that Uganda continues to face other terrorist threats from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) led by Jamil Mukulu, a former associate of Bin Laden during his time in Sudan in the 1990s (Daily Monitor, May 3; for the ADF, see Terrorism Monitor, December 20, 2007).