News of a pending visit by Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to Tunis, invited by President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to a conference in mid March, provoked demonstration on March 5, which were broken up violently by Tunisian police. Later a strong warning appeared on the web from the ‘media section, Arab Maghrib’ of a group calling itself ‘The Jihadist Army of Islam Group — Uqba bin Nafi’ Brigade.’
Posted on March 14 on the al-Qal’ah jihadi forum [www.al-qal3ah.com], it warns the “Tunisian tyrant and members of the government, agents of the Jews and Christians” that it will not permit his entry, “to pollute a Muslim land as he polluted the al-Aqsa mosque.” The message goes on to threaten government members that “each one of you will be targeted and placed on our wanted [list]. The day will come when you will suffer grief and pay a heavy price.” The mujahideen’s reply will be “in line after line of car bombs; we will turn foreign embassies into lakes of blood.”
The group is unknown. Its subtitle “Uqba bin Nafi” comes from the name of the conqueror of the Maghrib in the time of the Arab expansion in the 7th century, so it is clearly attempting to style itself as a native formation. But other than that the trail runs cold. Under a regime that enjoys both relative political and economic stability, and a population compliant with its broad secularization approach, Tunisian Islamist activism has for long been a phenomenon of expatriates. There have been some conspicuous prosecutions of Tunisians for jihadist-related activities, but these have all been in Europe and related to operations which do not encompass Tunisia. Members of the banned al-Nahda group are now more active in Spain than at home, and the bombing of the synagogue in Djerba in April 2002 was notable for the marked international profile of the attackers. Two other groups, the Tunisian Combatant Group, on the U.S. list of banned terror groups, and the Tunisian Islamic Front, remain shadowy, with the strength of their numbers uncertain.
The weakness of domestic Islamist activism is indicated by a commentary on this announcement posted on the al-Ma’sada forum, where the participant casts doubt on the likelihood of the threat being carried out. At the same time he reflects the despondency observed among Algerian Islamists at the purpose and strategy of jihadist militant groups, underlining that should any bombing occur, “civilians will be killed, but the Pig and the Apostates will be immune from these sterile operations which serve no purpose” [www.alm2sda.net].