Worry in Tunisia over youths joining Salafi groups

Worry in Tunisia over youths joining Salafi groups
Thu Dec 19, 2013 10:28:05

There is growing concern that hundreds of Tunisian young volunteers have been recruited through a widening network of extremist Salafist groups and then trained to fight in Syria besides al-Qaeda linked groups.

The concerns have been already raised with the potential that these young militants to return home to cause more trouble.

“Even if just 200 come back, that could cause real problems,” said Mehdi Taje, the director of Global Prospect Intelligence and a specialist on North Africa. And Syria is not the only place radicalized Tunisians have gone to fight. They have also been found with militant groups in Algeria, Iraq, Libya and Mali.

There is a precedent next door. Algerians who went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight Soviet forces returned to fuel an Islamic movement and then a civil war at home that killed about 200,000 in the 1990s. Twenty years later Algeria is still dealing with insurgents, who have retreated into the desert.

The Tunisian police and army officials have warned of signs that Salafist insurgents may be laying the groundwork for an armed insurgency in their own country, which lies between Algeria and lawless Libya.

Since Tunisia began the Arab Spring almost three years ago by ousting its longtime dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had forcibly secularized the country, fundamentalist Salafist groups have sprouted in almost every town. They draw thousands of young men and women to their strongholds, where they recruit volunteers ostensibly for terror acts against already determined targets.

Although most Salafists insist their activity is focused on education, it is clear from dozens of interviews with families of the recruits, analysts and government officials that a growing number of young men are being drawn into militancy.

Homegrown suicide attacks, previously unheard-of here, are the latest sign of spreading radicalization among young people in a country that has become fertile ground for foreign backed extremist groups recruiting militants for the terror acts convulsing the region.


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