01 April 2012 6:32 pm | | 15


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Tarek Maaroufi

By Aaron Y. Zelin

Last weekend, thousands of Salafis filled the streets of Avenue Habib Bourguiba demonstrating in support of the Qur‘an. It was overshadowed though by the actions of some climbing the clock tower and confronting a theater group staging a separate event at the Municipal Theater nearby. Some news that went unnoticed though was the return of Tarek Maaroufi, a Tunisian who had recently been released from Belgian prison after serving for a number of terror charges, who arrived and also attended the Salafi show of force last Sunday.

According to Sayf Allah bin Hussayn (better know as Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi), who co-founded the Tunisian Combat Group (TCG) with Maaroufi in June 2000 and currently the leader of the salafi-jihadi group Ansar al-Shari‘ah in Tunisia (AST), in an interview this past Friday with the Tunisian Le Temps newspaper, Maaroufi’s stay would only last ten days. Though it is possible that Maaroufi may be visiting family, he lived his entire adult life in Brussels and was stripped of his Belgian citizenship while imprisoned in January 2009. Therefore, it is highly unlikely Maaroufi will be returning to Belgium. This raises two important questions: (1) does Maaroufi still believe in the global jihadi worldview and (2) where does he plan to go after his stay in Tunisia (if he even decides to leave)? Answering these two questions may help determine what his future course is and what it may mean for Tunisia.

Regarding the first, when Maaroufi landed at Tunis–Carthage International Airport, ANSAmed reported that Maaroufi “was happy to have seen that jihad is also in the minds of Tunisians.” This suggests that even though he was imprisoned for nine years, he still had a zeal for jihadism. It is believed that Maaroufi’s jihadi career stretches as far back as 1991 when he first made contact with Rachid Ramda, currently serving a life sentence in France, who is linked to the 1995 Paris Metro bombings, and headed the various European Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) cells.

While in Brussels, Maaroufi was known for being associated with the GIA and was the leader of the “Brussels cell,” a group of individuals that supported various jihadi fronts during the 1990s with money, recruitment, and the forgery of documentation. Maaroufi was originally arrested in 1995 and sentenced to three years along with eleven others for planning a terror attack in Europe. He would be released only a year later and was put on three years’ probation. The arrest and probation, though, did not deter further activities within the jihadi movement. He began to recruit individuals for the jihad in Chechnya against the Russians. Maaroufi later traveled to Afghanistan in 2000, where he formed the TCG with Abu Ayyad. After returning to Belgium, he would be implicated in many terrorist plots, and one of the most notorious attacks. He was linked to the US Embassy in Paris plot broken up in September 2001, the Kleine Brogel NATO Air Base plot in the fall of 2001, and the Philips Tower plot in 2002. Maaroufi was also associated with cells that were eventually broken up and whose members were arrested in Frankfort and Milan. Maaroufi’s claim to fame though is the facilitation and planning of the assassination of Ahmad Shah Mehsud, former leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, two days prior to the 9/11 attacks. Maaroufi would eventually be charged twice, first in 2003 and then later in 2004 for his involvement in terrorism activities and sentenced accordingly six years and then five years in prison, suggesting he was released two years early.

The main modus operandi of Maaroufi’s “Brussels cell” was facilitating document forgery and recruiting individuals to fight abroad. As such, based on Maaroufi’s background, one could surmise that he may be attempting to tap into the swell of Tunisian Salafi youth that are outraged by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of their Sunni brethren. Such speculation could be bolstered by Abu Ayyad’s remark in an interview with As-Sabah last week that “we have a large group of young people who want to go out to jihad in Syria.” Based on past relations between Abu Ayyad and Maaroufi, and the fact that Abu Ayyad leads AST, it is possible that Maaroufi may be recruiting individuals to go fight in Syria—or that he may end up doing so if he remains in Tunisia. During the height of the Iraq war, Tunisia was a key staging area where fighters from Europe and North Africans West of Libya would go prior to making their trip to Syria and then later into Iraq. These networks may be re-established for the jihad in Syria, and Maaroufi could ultimately play a role in their regeneration.

The flow of fighters into Syria could be a future issue for Tunisia. Unlike many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia was unaffected by major violence following the Soviet jihad of the 1980s following the return of foreign fighters. One of the main reasons for this was a lack of promotion on the part of the former Tunisian regime to send unwanted individuals abroad. Though the current government is not promoting jihad abroad, the access to information through the internet has changed the game. There are already reports of Lebanese, Palestinians, Libyans, Yemenis, and Europeans joining the Syrian jihad. The last thing Tunisia needs though is a group of hardened fighters returning in a few years while the country is still transitioning to a better future leading to potential instability, especially if the economy continues to sputter. This is why although Maaroufi may only be in Tunisia for ten days, more should be paying attention, or at least determining his true intentions.

Aaron Y. Zelin is a researcher in the Department of Politics at Brandeis University. He maintains the website Jihadology.net and co-edits the al-Wasat blog.

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Comments (15)

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  1. Nasri says:

    You are right “conquer” must be better, thanks for the free lesson, however this is not the issue. It’s really easy to flee the battlefield and hold ones festivities elsewhere.

    Again, justice is a universal value: The most effective way to test your committment towards it is to check whether or not you are ready to grant it for those you despise. Indeed, the very first step for any despot in the process of stripping his opponents from their rights is called defamation or dehumanisation, the second is your infamous doctrine. For your information, the Nazi terror machine excelled in combining these two evil components.

    Literacy is not an end for me, it’s rather a means to make it possible for me to learn, research and extend my insight into the universal values like justice, equality and freedom.

  2. Ibn Khaldoun says:

    I think you’ll find that the law and the province of justice is not applicable to animals.

  3. Nasri says:

    I think you are more in trouble with your thesaurus than me simply because not a single word in my comment could be understood as a support for Maaroufi or any other people committed to the use of violence to advance their political or ideological agendas whatsoever. furthermore, you’ll find lots of words and phrases clearly condemning this resort.

    My point is that this article along with huge volumes of similar litterature is full of exaggerations carefully designed to create monsters in the aim of spreading panic through public and traumatising them in order to eventually facilitate their control and make them surrender their freedoms and rights in return security. I can confidently call this strategy “traumatise and rule” to replace the older one “devide and rule”.

    You are the most vocal when it comes to the rule of law, but you are always the first ones to assault this principle. How can you legally support your complaint about the repatriation of a Tunisian citizen who was brought to justice where he committed his crimes and took a jail sentence? do you suggest to punish him again? is this something like double punishment?

    Justice is a universal principle, if you do not believe in it for those you despise means that you do not believe in it at all. I would like to quote Martin Lutherking Jr as saying “Justice is indivisible, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Check your thesaurus.

  4. Nasri says:

    A good effort in gothering information, however, good intelligence never makes for a good treatise. Exaggerations and ignoring the real causes are common features of the greatest part of litrature dealing with the subject, this article is not an exception.

    A couple of days ago, Sarkozy, speaking about Marah said “this man has the intention to bring the republic to its knees”. A highly dramatised and exaggerated statement intended to turn the attention of the public from his security failure if not conspiracy and to provide a justification for his subsequent ill fated decisions and plans. In the aftermath of 9/11, the propaganda machine invited Roosevelt’s “day of infamy” to further dramatise the events and inflame the US people for the reasons that everyone knows now. What is happening in much of the Tunisian media is following the same legacy.

    In addition to exaggeration, the article avoided the obvious and most pressing question: why has Tunisia been such a fertile ground for violent ideologies? well the answer is as obvious as the question: because Tunisia has been a land of repression, descrimination and state terror. The very same powers that perpetrated terror in our country are striving to reclaim power by giving the impression that our liberties are under imminent threat and that they are the only ones able to save the country and restore order. They are trying to regenerate the very same terror machine they have benefited from for decades.

    May it be interesting to mention that the so called “Jihadist” ideology had flourished in Afghanistan during the 1980′s when the “Jihadists” were called “freedom fighters” by the CIA. A couple of years later these
    very same “Jihadists” fighting for the very same cause which is to set Afghanistan free wone a new name from the CIA: terrorists, and now, with rumors of expected talks it’s highly expected that they restore their previous title. Is it then legitimate to advance the claim that these so called “Jihadists” are if not agents of at least highly manipulated by the intelligencies? I dare to say yes. True Jihad must be free from every drop of innocent blood.

    • Ibn Khaldoun says:

      Man, you’re either in a dysfunctional relationship with a thesaurus or obsessed with google translate.

      This article achieved its goal: raising awareness of the repatriation of terrorists to Tunisia. Let’s stop and think for a second. Tunisia is a coutnry currently facing an extrmeely volatile situation perpetuated by heighted social tension that has its roots in the religion vs. secularism struggle. Why not let these hardened terrorist scumbags come back to Tunis?

      This bloke just got stripped of his Belgian nationality. Europe does not want him. Do you honestly think he’s going to come to Tunis only to bugger off? I’m not so inclined to be that gullible and neither should you. If he does leave soon, I would bet that he has already established some sort of terrorist cell or network and has merely gone to another extermist regime to rally support and God knows what.

      Tarrak Maaroufi, you’re a despicable human being. Leave us alone for ***k’s sake.

      • Nasri says:

        I think you are more in trouble with your thesaurus than me simply because not a single word in my comment could be understood as a support for Maaroufi or any other people committed to the use of violence to advance their political or ideological agendas whatsoever. furthermore, you’ll find lots of words and phrases clearly condemning this resort.

        My point is that this article along with huge volumes of similar litterature is full of exaggerations carefully designed to create monsters in the aim of spreading panic through public and traumatising them in order to eventually facilitate their control and make them surrender their freedoms and rights in return security. I can confidently call this strategy “traumatise and rule” to replace the older one “devide and rule”.

        You are the most vocal when it comes to the rule of law, but you are always the first ones to assault this principle. How can you legally support your complaint about the repatriation of a Tunisian citizen who was brought to justice where he committed his crimes and took a jail sentence? do you suggest to punish him again? is this something like double punishment?

        Justice is a universal principle, if you do not believe in it for those you despise means that you do not believe in it at all. I would like to quote Martin Lutherking Jr as saying “Justice is indivisible, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Check your thesaurus

        • Ibn Khaldoun says:

          I think you’ll find that the law and the province of justice is not applicable to animals. Even those claiming Tunisian heritage. For his involvement in several acts of terror, including a successfully carried out execution, he should at the very least be serving out a life sentence and not running around Tunis free as a goddamn pigeon.

          • Ibn Khaldoun says:

            Also, if you’re going to act all holier than thou and start quoting old adages and famous political figures, please do it correctly. It’s “divide and conquer”, not “divide and rule”. No moron would want to lead a country split into factions.

            Conquer is more appropriate as you help division to fester, thereby preventing an efficient mobilisation of the opposition.

            Don’t worry, buddy, that lesson is free–all in the name of increasing literacy in Tunisia :)

  5. raul says:

    So Tunisia Live is accepting articles from US backed Zionist websites now???

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