This is no surprise to the few who identified the Arab Spring from the beginning as an attempted Islamic supremacist takeover. We were derided at the time for our pessimism, as mainstream analysts hailed the dawn of democracy in the Middle East. At that time on Fox, Juan Williams responded that I was “fearmongering” when I said that the Arab Spring was hardly a flowering of democracy, and that the groups best poised to take advantage of it were pro-Sharia Islamic authoritarians. Now we know.
“In Central Tunisia, Birthplace Of Arab Spring Now Jihad Hotbed,” by Frédéric Bobin, Worldcrunch, September 16, 2015:
SIDI ALI BEN AOUN — Ali Chadli opens his eyes wide, incredulous even now. No, he had no idea his sons were planning to leave for Syria, where they eventually died. “They were praying as usual,” he says. “I hadn’t noticed anything particular.”
The aging man invites us to take a seat next to the grapevine, on the terrace of his little farm, outside a small village called Sidi Ali Ben Aoun. The village sits at the end of a bumpy path lined with olive and barbary fig trees, at the foot of the infamous Sidi Aich mountains, where armed groups have their hideouts, according to villagers.
Located 250 kilometers south of Tunis, this Salafist stronghold is a different world altogether. Here, a portion of the young people dream of jihad in Iraq, Syria or Libya. Some are even starting to turn their anger against their own country.
For Ali Chadli, the troubles began in 2012, with a phone call from Turkey. The voice on the other end was his son Mohammed, who hadn’t, the father realized, “gone there for tourism.”
Before that, Mohamed attended univeristy and found a job in Tunis as a security guard. He seemed happy and settled, which is why his Ali Chadli was so stunned when his son disappeared to Turkey, the entry door for jihadists heading to Syria. The farmer had no idea that more trouble was yet to come.
A year later, it was his younger son, Raki, who telephoned, days after vanishing. The phone call came from Libya. A second call followed a few weeks later, this time from the Syrian city of Raqqa, the ISIS “capital.” Ali Chadli can only speculate about how and why things transpired the way they did. “Maybe he was influenced by his elder brother,” he wonders.
The irony of the situation is that the two brothers joined rival organizations: Mohamed fought with al-Nusra, a local al-Qaeda branch, while Raki joined ISIS. That didn’t keep them from staying close to one another. It was Raki who called their father when Mohamed was killed in July 2013. Raki himself died in a U.S. airstrike on Raqqa in July 2014. One of Raki’s friends called the father to inform him.
Over the past few years, in the small village of Sidi Ali Ben Aoun alone, between 15 and 20 young people are said to have left and gone abroad to fight under the jihadist flag. And the flow continues.
Central Tunisia, left out of the economic development that has mostly benefitted the prosperous coastline, seems to be particularly vulnerable to the jihad temptation. In early July, the country was shocked to learned that some some 30 young adults from the southeastern village of Remada, including three soldiers, had crossed the border with Libya.
Tunisia has now become one of the biggest suppliers of jihad candidates around the region. A preliminary report by the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries, published in early July, suggests that some 5,500 Tunisians have left to country to fight, a figure well above the 3,000 that had been officially acknowledged up to that point.
The report pointed out that between 1,000 and 1,500 of them were in Libya. This group of jihadists trained in Libya is particularly worrying here because their main target, it appears, is Tunisia. The attacks in the Bardo Museum on March 18 and at the tourist resort in Sousse on June 26, carried out by perpetrators believed to have been trained in Libya, have highlighted this danger only too well….