TUNISIA: So-called ‘moderate Islamist’ leader conspiring with al-Qaeda linked Salafists to rid the country of all its liberals and secularists

Ah, yes, another member of Barack Hussein Obama’s Arab Spring triumph, going down in flames.

Long War Journal  The leader of the supposedly moderate Ennahda political party in Tunisia has been caught on tape strategizing with Salafists to gain control of the country. In the video, he also acknowledged contacts with leaders of al Qaeda-linked groups, including one that attacked the US embassy on Sept. 14 and another that supports the establishment of a global Caliphate.

Ennahda is already under fire from human rights activists for drafting a law, yet to be debated in parliament, that could see anyone convicted of violating religious values jailed for up to two years.

Rachid Ghannouchi, the co-founder and current leader of Ennahda, the largest political party in Tunisia, is seen on video encouraging a group of Salafists to bide their time and build institutions instead of rushing to take control of the country. The videotape was recorded in January, and released on Oct. 9. Ghannouchi and Ennahda claim to espouse a moderate form of Islam; the party currently holds the office of prime minister.

“The secularists are still controlling the media, economy and administration,” Ghannouchi warned the Salafists, according to Magharebia. “Therefore, controlling them would require more time.” He advised the Salafists to “create television channels, radio stations, schools and universities” to increase their influence.

Tunisian Salafists are stoking fears of a rising Islamist tide after the hardliners disrupted a string of cultural events they deemed un-Islamic, culminating in an attack that left five people wounded.

Tunisia’s Religious Affairs Minister Nourredine al-Khademi on Saturday estimated that about 400 of Tunisia’s more than 5,000 mosques had fallen under the sway of ultra-conservative Salafists.

Ghannouchi also warned that “the police and army’s support for Islamists is not guaranteed, and controlling them would also require more time.” He continued: “I tell our young Salafists to be patient…. Why hurry? Take your time to consolidate what you have gained.”

Artists and opposition media accuse the Islamist-led government of failing to do more to rein in the Salafists, who attacked the Bizerte music and theatre festival armed with swords and sticks.

“The Islamists must fill the country with associations, establish Qur’anic schools everywhere, and invite religious preachers because people are still ignorant of Islam,” Ghannouchi stated.

Ghannouchi also said he supported a constitutional amendment to allow for Sharia, or Islamic law, and heaped scorn on secularists who are tolerant of Islam. He went on to point out that Ennahda’s ascent to power in Tunisia presents an opportunity for Islamists. “The government is now at the hands of Islamists, the mosques are ours now, and we’ve become the most important entity in the country,” he said.

“What is serious about all this, more than the activism of these religious extremists, which grows by the day, is the laxity of the authorities who give in every time when faced with the diktats of some bearded fanatics,” said the online publication Kapitalis, which is strongly critical of the government.

In the video, Ghannouchi admitted: “We’ve [Ennahda] met with Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the Salafists, including Sheikh Abu Iyad [al Tunisi] and Sheikh al-Idrissi.”

Sheikh Abu Iyad al Tunisi’s real name is Seifallah ben Hassine, and he is the current emir of Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia. Official documents prepared by the US government and the United Nations show that Hassine has long operated as a part of the al Qaeda network. Hassine co-founded the Tunisian Combatant Group, which was created “in coordination with” al Qaeda, according to the United Nations. Hassine reportedly met with both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A Tunisian salafist woman demonstrates in front of the building of Tunisian national television in Tunis. Every Friday, bearded men in shin-length robes demonstrate in Tunisia’s capital against perceived insults to Islam in a country once known for its aggressive secularism.

The Tunisian Combatant Group is known to have a presence in Europe. Additionally, at least five current Guantanamo detainees were members of the Tunisian Combatant Group. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda ally orchestrated assault on US embassy in Tunisia, for more information on Hassine and the Tunisian Combatant Group.]

Hassine has rebranded the Tunisian Combatant Group and other Salafists as Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia. The group is responsible for the Sept. 14 attack on the US embassy in Tunisia. The American staff evacuated the embassy unscathed, but the attackers hoisted an al Qaeda-style black flag high above the compound and ransacked American property. Hassine led the attack.