Tunisian Combatant Group
Tunisian Combatant Group
LEADERS: Seifallah Ben Hassine; Tarek Ben Habib Maaroufi
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Tunisia
The Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG) was formed in 2000 by Seifallah Ben Hassine and Tarek Ben Habib Maaroufi. Known in Tunisia as Jama'a Combattante Tunisienne, the group has also been called the Groupe Combattant Tunisien, Tunisian Combat Group, and the Tunisian Islamic Group. The TCG is comprised mainly of Islamic Tunisians living outside their country who operate in small-sized cells throughout Afghanistan and Western Europe. Although the goal of the group is the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Tunisia, the TCG has been involved with attacks on Western targets and supports the activities of other international jihadist (holy warriors) organizations, such as the Algerian organization the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, and al-Qaeda. Members of the TCG have been implicated for providing false documents and are believed to serve as recruiters for the larger salafist organizations.
Tunisia is located in northern Africa bordering Algeria, Libya, and the Mediterranean Sea. The country was ruled by France until 1956, when it was granted independence. In the first election, Habib Bourguiba won the presidency and, in 1975, proclaimed himself to be "president for life." During his regime, Bourguiba dominated the country by creating a one-party state, repressing Islamic fundamentalism, and establishing rights for women unparalleled in the Arab world. In 1987, Bourguiba was placed under house arrest by the prime minister, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who then took over the presidency. Ali proceeded to implement political reforms that allowed for the creation of opposition political parties and passed a constitutional amendment that reduced the presidential office term to three five-year terms. In 1989, the state held its first multiparty election since Tunisia gained its independence from France. During this election, the Islamic fundamentalist group represented in the party an-Nahda, or renaissance, had a strong showing in the results. Although an-Nahda had a strong showing, Ali won the presidency with no opposition. As a result, he moved to outlaw Islamic fundamentalist political parties and continued a policy of censorship and imprisoning those supporting fundamental activities. In 1990, approximately 100 people were arrested on charges of trying to create an Islamic state in Tunisia. In 1991, prior to the Gulf War, thousands of protestors demonstrated in support of Iraq, leading to violence between the government and the protestors.
During this time, Tarek Ben Habib Maaroufi was living in Belgium and had become a naturalized citizen. Maaroufi was working at a radio station, el-Watan, which catered to immigrants from northern Africa, particularly Morocco. During this time, Maaroufi had become a contact for major Islamic fundamentalist organizations from northern Africa. In 1992 and 1996, the Tunisian government requested that Maaroufi be extradited on charges of his involvement with an-Nahda's armed movement to create an Islamic state in Tunisia. The Belgium government declined these requests on the grounds that he was now a Belgian citizen. However, in 1995, Maaroufi was arrested along with twelve members of the Algerian organization, the Armed Islamic Group, an organization with the stated goal of creating an Islamic state in Algeria. The group has been linked to violence against government officials and civilians in Algeria. He was released in December of 1996 and given three-years probation.
By 2000, Maaroufi and Hassine had formed the Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG) by drawing from Tunisians in Europe and elsewhere in the world. In December 2000, the United Nations had designated the group for sanctions under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1333. This resolution identifies the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and those groups operating with Osama bin Laden, as terrorist organizations that should be sanctioned and have their assets frozen. By January 2001, the group was suspected for participation in planning the foiled attacks on U.S., Algerian, and Tunisian diplomatic missions in Rome. In December 2001, Maaroufi was arrested in Belgium for his participation in the September 9 assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance. Maaroufi was charged with providing forged Belgian passports to the two men who carried out the assassinations. He was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to six years in prison. In April 2002, members of the TCG embarked on a suicide mission outside the el-Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia. The suicide truck bomb was detonated outside the synagogue and killed approximately twenty people. By October 2002, the United States designated the TCG as a terrorist organization under presidential Executive Order 13224, and expressed that the organization has ties with other northern African Islamic jihadist groups, al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden. As a direct result of those alliances, the executive order freezes the assets of the group and blocks further transactions from occurring within the United States. Also in 2002, the Italian court sentenced several TCG members on convictions relating to operations carried out by al-Qaeda.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
The members of the TCG are committed to the creation of an Islamic state in Tunisia. The group is closely allied with salafist organizations, like the Algerian Salafist Group for Call and Combat. Salafists believe in a strict interpretation of the Koran. The Islamic state created by salafists would adhere to this strict interpretation. In order to reach this goal, the group has developed ties with other international Islamic fundamentalists. The Algerian organization, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, is seeking the creation of an Islamic state in Algeria, the neighbor of Tunisia. The group has targeted moderate Muslims within Algeria and attacked the government and civilians believed to support the government. Both the TCG and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat have become recruiting grounds in northern Africa for larger Islamic jihadist organizations, such as al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda believes in a "defensive jihad," one that promotes the philosophy that each Muslim must fight attacks on Islam throughout the world. In doing so, al-Qaeda seeks the overthrow of secular regimes that are considered repressive to Muslims. These regimes, al-Qaeda believes, should be replaced by an Islamic government. As a result, al-Qaeda and the TCG have become allies in reaching their goals. To aid al-Qaeda in its mission, the TCG participates in recruiting, logistics, and providing forged documents to jihadists throughout Europe.
SEIFALLAH BEN HASSINE
Seifallah Ben Hassine is the co-founder of the Tunisian Combatant Group. The Tunisian is believed to have established ties to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda while living in Afghanistan prior to 2001. After the fall of the Taliban, Hassine traveled throughout the Middle East until he was detained by Turkish authorities in 2003. The U.S. State Department believes Hassine spent time in London creating operating cells for al-Qaeda; however, his whereabouts are currently unknown.
TAREK BEN HABIB MAAROUFI
Tarek Ben Habib Maaroufi is the other cofounder of the Tunisian Combatant Group. Maaroufi, born in Tunisian in 1965, immigrated to Belgium where he obtained naturalized citizenship. He worked at an Arabic radio station, el-Watan, until 1991. During this time, Maaroufi became a point of contact for northern African Islamic jihadists. In 1992 and in 1996, the Tunisian government requested that Maaroufi be extradited by Belgium for participation in the Islamic fundamentalist group, an-Nahda. The Belgian government declined these requests. However, in 1995, Maaroufi was arrested along with twelve members of the Armed Islamic Group, a group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic state in Tunisia's neighbor, Algeria. Maaroufi was released in 1996 and sentenced to three years of probation. In the late 1990s, Maaroufi became a recruiter for al-Qaeda. In 2001, he was arrested in Belgium after the assassination of the leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud. Maaroufi was convicted of providing the assassins fabricated Belgian passports and sentenced to six years in prison.
The TCG is comprised mainly of Tunisians living in Western Europe. Within Tunisia, 98% of the population is Muslim, and Islam is considered the state religion. However, the Tunisian government has banned Islamic political parties in an effort to hamper the activities of self-declared radical Islamists who seek to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in Tunisia. These campaigns seeking to repress Islamic fundamentalism in the county have resulted in thousands imprisoned, although many were released when President Ali began to open the political system in 1989. However, the TCG is viewed as a threat to the national security of Tunisia due to the stated goal of wanting to overthrow the government and replace it with a salafist regime. In addition, the TCG is close allies with al-Qaeda and virulently anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Israel. As such, the U.S. State Department has listed the group as a terrorist organization. Under Executive Order 12334, the assets of the organization within the United States are frozen.
- Tunisia is granted independence from France. Habib Bourguiba is elected president and creates a one-party state. Bourguiba begins policy of banning Islamic fundamentalists from creating political parties.
- Bourguiba declares himself president for life.
- Bourguiba is placed under house arrest by the prime minister, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who begins to institute changes to political structure.
- The first multiparty elections since 1956 are held in Tunisia. The Islamic fundamentalist group, an-Nahda, wins more support than expected. Ali wins the presidency with no opposition and proceeds to ban an-Nahda and other Islamic groups.
- Approximately 100 people are arrested on charges of trying to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.
- Violent clashes erupt during the Gulf War between government forces and Islamic supporters of the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein.
- The Tunisian government requests from Belgium the extradition of the future cofounder of the TCG, Tarek Ben Habib Maaroufi, for his involvement in activities related to an-Nahda. Belgium declines.
- Maaroufi is arrested in Belgium with twelve members of the Armed Islamic Group. Maaroufi is released with a sentence of three-years probation.
- The Tunisian government again requests the extradition of Maaroufi from Belgium. Belgium refuses.
- The TCG is formed by Tarek Ben Habib Maaroufi and Seifallah Ben Hassine with the stated goal to create an Islamic state in Tunisia.
- TCG is designated for sanctions under the UNSCR 1333 due to its ties with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
- TCG is suspected in planning and attempting to carry out the foiled attacks on U.S., Algerian, and Tunisian diplomatic missions in Rome.
- Maaroufi is arrested in Belgium for providing false documents to the assassins of the Afghan Northern Alliance leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud.
- TCG suicide bombers on Tunisian island of Djerba detonate bomb outside a synagogue, killing twenty people.
- United States designates TCG as a terrorist organization under Executive Order 13224 and freezes the assets of the organization within the United States.
- Italian court convicts TCG members on activities with al-Qaeda.
- Maaroufi is sentenced to six years for his involvement in the 2001 assassination.
In 2000, the Tunisian Combatant Group was formed by Tarek Ben Habib Maaroufi and Seifallah Ben Hassine with the expressed goal being the creation of an Islamic state in Tunisia. The group was created in response to nearly 50 years of repression of Islamic fundamentalists within Tunisia. However, most of the groups members are Tunisians living in Europe and most of the group's activities have occurred outside the country. The U.S. State Department describes the TCG as a loosely based organization that operates in small cells throughout Europe and the Middle East. One of these cells was suspected in the 2001 attempted attacks on the U.S., Algerian, and Tunisian diplomatic missions in Rome. Much of the organization's other activities surround its alliances with other international Islamic jihad organizations, such as the Algerian Salafist Group for Call and Combat and al-Qaeda. The TCG provides recruiting, logistics, planning, and false documents for operatives of these other organizations. The TCG has been sanctioned under both the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1333 and the U.S. presidential Executive Order 13224 for its connections with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The organization has successfully launched operations within Tunisia. In 2002, operatives from the TCG participated in a suicide bombing of a synagogue in Djerba, an island off of Tunisia. The bombing killed twenty people.
Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG)
The Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG), also known as the Jama'a Combattante Tunisienne, seeks to establish an Islamic regime in Tunisia and has targeted US and Western interests. The group is an offshoot of the banned Tunisian Islamist movement, an-Nahda. Founded around 2000 by Tarek Maaroufi and Saifallah Ben Hassine, the TCG has drawn members from the Tunisian diaspora in Europe and elsewhere. It has lost some of its leadership, but may still exist, particularly in Western Europe. Belgian authorities arrested Maaroufi in late 2001 and sentenced him to six years in prison in 2003 for his role in the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud two days before 9/11. The TCG was designated under EO 13224 in October 2002. Historically, the group has been associated with al-Qaeda as well. Members also have ties to other North African extremist groups. The TCG was designated for sanctions under UNSCR 1333 in December 2000.
Tunisians associated with the TCG are part of the support network of the broader international jihadist movement. According to European press reports, TCG members or affiliates in the past have engaged in trafficking falsified documents and recruiting for terror training camps in Afghanistan. Some TCG associates were suspected of planning an attack against the US, Algerian, and Tunisian diplomatic missions in Rome in April 2001. Some members reportedly maintain ties to the Algerian Salafist Group for Call and Combat.
LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATION
Western Europe and Afghanistan.
Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.
The TCG is still considered to be active. Of the co-founders, Maaroufi is serving a six-year sentence for his participation in an assassination in 2001. Hassine, the other co-founder, is believed to still be leading the organization, although his whereabouts are currently unknown.
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