As ISIS influence increases daily in the North African nation of Libya, it has also succeeded in penetrating the ranks of Islamists in neighboring Tunisia, securing an oath of fealty from the Mujahidin of Kairouan.
According to reports, the Mujahidin have released an audio message addressed to the ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi containing a sworn oath of allegiance.
— Terrormonitor.org (@Terror_Monitor) May 19, 2015
The nine-minute audio message was disseminated primarily through social networks and was still able to be heard in the original language on the net on Tuesday.
The new pact with Tunisian Islamists comes just a week after the Algerian group al-Mourabitoun allegedly also swore its allegiance to the Islamic State. Al-Mourabitoun militias have reportedly been active in the fighting in Libya.
The Mauritanian news source Alakhbar cited a recording it had received from a spokesman for al-Mourabitoun in which a speaker calling himself Adnan Abu Waleed al-Sahrawi asserted that al-Mourabitoun had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and urged other jihadi groups to do likewise. A co-founder of al-Mourabitoun, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, later denied reports that the jihadist group has shifted its allegiance to the Islamic State from al-Qaeda.
Analysts suggest that the new Islamic State allies in Tunisia have been recruited to assist in galvanizing ISIS’ strategic base in Libya, rather than primarily to infiltrate Italy, which at only 96 miles away is the closest African state to Italy. The distance is so short, in fact, that less than a decade ago an Italian government agency proposed a project to build a tunnel under the Strait of Sicily connecting the two nations.
Just last month ISIS launched an appeal to Tunisian jihadists through a 3-minute video inviting them to join the fight in Libya.
The newly established European mission in Libya has ruled out sending ground troops to Libya, at least for the moment. According to Gianandrea Gaiani, editor-in-chief of Analisi Difesa, an Italian journal of geopolitical and military analysis, a European military presence on Libyan soil would represent a provocation that would summon all jihadists within hundreds of miles.
For the moment, the European intervention in Libya will be an exclusively naval mission. On the one hand it aims at stemming the urgent problem of human trafficking and terrorist infiltration, and on the other it seeks to better secure the southern Mediterranean, especially between Sicily and North Africa.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome