The jihadist assassin of Tunisian secular party leader Mohamed Brahmi, who was shot dead in Tunis in 2013, said his murder and that of secular politician Chokri Belaid a few weeks earlier were designed to create chaos in the North African country.
Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview in the latest issue of the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq also cast light on the strategy behind the murderous assault on March 18 on a landmark museum in the Tunisian capital that killed 22 people, mostly foreign tourists.
A terrorist group affiliated with the Islamic State group claimed responsibility late Monday for the March 18 attack. In a five-minute audio message purportedly posted by Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, on YouTube, the group also directed specific threats at named Tunisian politicians, including the country’s president, Beji Caid Essebsi, and Prime Minister Habib Essid.
“Surely, the security of Tunisia will see horror, and surely you will see assassinations and explosions,” a spokesman for Jund al-Khilafah said.
The eighth issue of Dabiq also brags of more terrorism to come in Tunisia and highlights the importance the Islamic State group is now giving on waging jihad across North Africa and sowing chaos in a bid to help fracture more countries.
On Sunday, the Tunisian government announced its security forces had ambushed and killed the Algerian commander and eight other men of an al Qaida-linked group called Okba Ibn Nafaa, which it said masterminded the Bardo museum attack.
The subsequent claim of responsibility by Jund al-Khilafah for the March 18 attack suggests either the government is blaming the wrong terror group for the assault or that there is coordination between the Tunisian affiliates of the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, analysts said.
“They seem to be cooperating on the ground,” a European intelligence official told VOA. He asked not to be identified in this article.
The March 18 attack was seen by analysts as a major blow to the Tunisian government’s recent efforts to crack down on militants and to ensure the country remains an Arab Spring success story rather than yet another national casualty of the 2011 uprisings that toppled dictatorships from North Africa to the Arabian peninsula.
Tunisian officials acknowledged the rampage at the museum is a setback to their efforts to revive tourism, a key contributor to the country’s economy.
Tunisia has been the source country for more jihadist fighters per capita to the conflict in Syria than anywhere else, with authorities estimating at least 3,000 Tunisians having joined jihadist groups there. Five hundred are believed to have returned to Tunisia in recent months, sparking fears the returnees will become active.
According to the Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies, 14 Tunisians carried out suicide attacks in Iraq in March and April 2014.
Strategy behind assassination
In the Dabiq interview, at-Tunusi is asked what was the strategic reason behind the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi.
“We wanted to cause chaos in the lands by killing Brahmi so as to facilitate the brothers’ movements and so that we would be able to bring in weapons and liberate our brothers from prisons. This was the main goal behind killing Brahmi," at-Tunusi said.
He said the assassination was easy. “We stayed four hours in front of the home of this tyrant, waiting until he left the home and entered his car. I then moved towards him and killed him by shooting 10 bullets at him.”
The 2013 assassination of Tunisian opposition party leader Brahmi along with the slaying weeks earlier of Chokri Belaid, sent shockwaves through the country and triggered large protests in Tunis and other cities.
Belaid’s murder forced then-Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to resign.
The importance the terror group is placing on North Africa was signaled last autumn when Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dispatched his deputy in Syria, Abu Ali al-Anbari, a former Iraqi army veteran, to orchestrate the establishment of an affiliate in Tunisia’s neighbor, Libya.
That affiliate, Mujahideen of Libya, claimed responsibility for the beheadings in February in Libya of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.
In the Dabiq interview, at-Tunusi also provides a glimpse into how interconnected the jihadist network is across North Africa and into the Levant, explaining that Tunisians have played key roles in the training of fighters in Libya in camps established near the city of Derna.
He claims one of those involved in the slaying of Belaid, Abu Zakariyya Ahmad ar-Ruwaysi, was subsequently active in Libya.
“When we established a training camp in Libya, he became one of the brothers in charge of the camp,” he said.
At-Tunusi said he was also involved in training Libya fighters from other countries.
“Libya was next to us and weapons were widespread there. We would train brothers there and at the same time we would work to smuggle weapons into Tunisia," he said.