Al-Qaeda trying to regroup in Tunisia after Daesh setbacks: Sources

Last month, Tunisian special forces killed Bilel Kobi, a top aide to Abdelmalek Droukdel, better known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, an Al-Qaeda leader. (Reuters)
Updated 07 February 2018

Al-Qaeda trying to regroup in Tunisia after Daesh setbacks: Sources

TUNIS/ALGIERS: The killing of a senior Algerian militant by special forces soon after he slipped into Tunisia has raised concern that Al-Qaeda is trying to regroup in the North African state as rival Daesh has suffered major setbacks, security sources say.
Last month, Tunisian special forces killed Bilel Kobi, a top aide to Abdelmalek Droukdel, better known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in a mountainous region along the Tunisian-Algerian border.
Kobi was on an apparent mission to reunite splinter groups of Al-Qaeda fighters in Tunisia, putting the army on alert for more infiltrations, a senior Tunisian security source said.
AQIM was the dominant militant force in North Africa, staging several high-profile deadly attacks until 2013 when it fractured as many militants flocked to the more extremist Daesh as it seized territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Daesh became a major recruiter for disaffected, often unemployed young men especially from Tunisia, where poverty has spread since the uprising that toppled Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and induced protracted turmoil.
But Daesh’s appeal has waned since it lost all its territorial strongholds in neighboring Libya as well as in Iraq and Syria to counter-offensives by security forces, with fighters returning home or looking for new causes to join.
That has prompted AQIM to try to lure new talent from among Daesh veterans, two Tunisian security sources told Reuters.
“Al-Qaeda wants to invest in a recent decline of Daesh to reorganize and re-emerge as it seeks to restructure especially in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia by naming new local leaders on the ground,” one of the security sources said.
Kobi was not the only senior militant sent to reorganize Al-Qaeda in Tunisia. Hamza Al-Nimr, an Algerian who joined Al-Qaeda in 2003, was dispatched to lead a cell in Tunisia but was killed with Kobi in the same operation, Tunisian security sources say.
Beefed up by Western countries, Tunisia’s security forces have managed to pre-empt any major attack since a Daesh militant shot dead 39 foreigners on a Mediterranean beach in June 2015, but authorities remain on alert.
In December, the UAE briefly banned Tunisian women from boarding flights to Dubai over a perceived terrorist threat.
Hundreds of Tunisians have joined militant groups abroad but it is unclear how many have returned as significant numbers of them were killed in Syria combat and elsewhere, officials say.
AQIM has remained active in North Africa’s largely desert and often scarcely governed Sahel region, such as in Mali where it focused its activities after Daesh emerged in force to the north in Libya and Tunisia.
AQIM’s Tunisian branch, called Okba Ibn Nafaa, is fractured into four groups based in the remote, northwestern Kasserine and Kef mountains region near Algeria.
Their command structure is dominated by Algerians while a rival group loosely associated with Daesh based in the same region is run by Tunisians, Tunisian security sources say.
Kobi, among others before, had been sent to bring the Al-Qaeda spinoff groupings back together, they said.
“Okba has dozens of fighters; each group is comprised of up to 20 terrorists,” one Tunisian source said.
Okba had targeted police and army forces, he said, unlike the Daesh focus on killing civilians, such as on the Sousse beach.
Tunisia is monitoring the border in close cooperation with Algeria, which prides itself in having prevented any attack since a veteran AQIM commander, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed a strike on a desert natural gas plant in 2013.
There are indications of AQIM fighters trying to cross into Tunisia as Algeria’s army has cracked down on AQIM in the past two weeks, killing eight militants east of the capital Algiers and then the group's media chief a few days later.
“AQIM is in decline (in Algeria), it can’t restructure or redeploy here,” an Algerian security source said.
But a Tunisian security source said a regional AQIM commander remained in eastern Algeria intent on revamping the organization across North Africa, not just in Tunisia.


Four countries discuss ‘tolerance in multiculturalism’ at UAE summit

Updated 1 min 30 sec ago

Four countries discuss ‘tolerance in multiculturalism’ at UAE summit

  • Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi was appointed minister of tolerance in 2016, reinforcing the UAE’s commitment to eradicate ideological, cultural and religious bigotry in society
  • Speakers from Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Tatarstan, and Columbia discussed ways in which their respective countries are attempting to instill social and economic tolerance

DUBAI: With over 200 nationalities currently residing in the GCC, countries across the region are continuing to promote the values of tolerance and coexistence through various initiatives.

The UAE first introduced the post of minister of tolerance with the appointment of Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi in 2016, reinforcing its commitment to eradicate ideological, cultural and religious bigotry in society.

The second edition of the World Tolerance Summit, held in Dubai on November 13 and 14, saw a bigger number of countries participating, including Saudi Arabia.

Dr Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Fawzan, vice-chairman and secretary general of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, reviewed the Kingdom’s tolerance initiatives, and described the summit as “an opportunity to bring about positive change.”

The summit’s second day included a session titled “Tolerance in Multiculturalism: Achieving the Social, Economic and Humane Benefits of a Tolerant World,” in which speakers from Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Tatarstan, and Columbia discussed ways in which their respective countries are attempting to instill social and economic tolerance.

Princess Lamia bint Majed Saud Al-Saud, secretary general and board member of Alwaleed Philanthropies in Saudi Arabia, touched on the importance of tolerance in humanitarian work.

“It is extremely important to be a tolerant and accepting person in order to be able to help others. Our organization works in 180 countries — and we do not have any discrimination when it comes to language, religion or color,” said Al-Saud.

She said the region’s diversity of nationalities is at the essence of the Arab society: “I think that tolerance is in our DNA. It is something we can trace back through our history and previous civilizations.”

Alwaleed Philanthropies promotes cultural understanding through various centers across the world. Some of the most active are those located in Harvard University and Edinburgh.

“Prince (Al-)Waleed realized there was a serious problem in the way people viewed Islam and Arab culture after 9/11 and decided to take a proactive approach to fix this through the centers, which work on restoring the image of Muslims,” said Al-Saud.

She added: “Tolerance starts with one’s self. You have two ears, so listen to others before you talk and keep an open mind.”

Also speaking at the summit, President Rustam Nurgaliyevich Minnikhanov of Tatarstan discussed the progress of tolerance in the republic’s various cities, which have a population of 4 million people from 173 nationalities.

The two main religions in Tatarstan are Islam and Orthodox Christianity, and the sovereign state went through a long period of conflict before religious groups found common ground.

“We have gone from 20 mosques in (Tatarstan) to more than 1,500, with some just 200 meters away from a church,” said Minnikhanov. “Today, we have stability in our cities, and we have created a council to adopt a system through which we can strengthen the values of tolerance and maintain the peaceful coexistence of religious parties.”

More than 20 million Muslims currently reside in Tatarstan, where new policies in healthcare, education and tourism are catering to the “halal lifestyle,” he added.

Similarly, Muferihat Kamil, Minister of Peace in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia said her country aims to move forward from a past based on prejudiced conflict.

“The reason behind building a ministry of peace in Ethiopia is the aspirations we have for our people in the existing situation in the country,” she said. “We aim to empower our people and build peace that will resonate with the rest of the region.”

Lucy Jeannette Bermudez Bermudez, president of the State Council of Colombia, discussed her country’s current transition between its government, residents and armed groups. “In order to promote tolerance and respect in the country, our concentration has been on the group known as FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, which has now evolved into a political party,” said Bermudez.

The conflict between government and paramilitary groups, crime syndicates and FARC in Colombia began in the mid-1960s, and she stressed the need for the coexistence of different views, religions and race.

“We have different characteristics that we have to live with and even celebrate,” she added. “The advances we see in the UAE are something we look forward to establishing in my country. This model of government is one we should all follow.”