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Tuesday 20th March 2018

The Old New Story: Ennahda’s Special Security Branch

Politics

Ahmed Nadhif - 7Dnews Tunis

Wed, 31 Oct 2018 15:21 GMT

The defence committee tasked with investigating the assassination of two members of the leftist Tunisian National Front, Shukry Baleid and Mohamed Al-Barahmi, killed in 2013 while Ennahda was in power, has revealed unprecedented and sensitive information about a secret security branch of the Ennahda party that is connected to the assassinations. 

The committee highlighted a number of documents, which 7DNews was able to obtain a copy of, on the role of someone named Mostafa Khidr, who investigators say has intelligence-based affiliations to Ennahda.  

Documents suggest that a special security branch of Ennahda sought to infiltrate Tunisia’s security and military institutions, and gather information on journalists, powerful businessmen, while unearthing connections to the Ansar Al-Sharia terrorist organisation and its foreign affiliations.  

The documents, according to the committee, expose a link between Ennahda’s security branch and the Italian intelligence agency, as the branch mediated the release of one of the Italian journalists held by a terrorist group in Syria. 

One of the goals of this security branch, according to the documents, is to build a parallel security system, recruit judges and monitor military personnel, in addition to cooperating with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, gaining access to information from Algerian military institutions and infiltrating the US embassy for espionage purposes.  

The documents were found in December 2013 at Mostafa Khidr’s residence. Reda Al-Radawi, an attorney and a member of the defence committee leading the investigation, said in a forum that Khidr was the Ennahda special security branch supervisor. He was in direct communication with the movement’s highest ranks, especially Rached Ghannouchi, president of Ennahda, and Noureldin Al-Beheri, head of its parliamentary bloc. 

Ennahda faced the accusations and documents with denial, saying no illegal activities had occurred outside the party organisation law. It also strongly condemned, in a statement, what it described as “fallacious methods and misinformation by using a case going back to 2013, on which judgment had been pronounced, with the accused having nothing to do with Ennahda.”  

Although the movement’s reaction was expected, the public attorney’s office in Tunisia did not open an investigation on the matter nor did it make any statements. 

This is not the first time that the Ennahda movement has been accused of having a special secret security branch. Since the mid 1970s, Ennahda, which was then known as the Islamic Direction Movement, formed a special branch using a number of security and military officers in addition to civil leaders, and was successful in infiltrating the security and military establishments.

The MB (Muslim Brotherhood) movement in Tunisia was interested in having its ranks within the military. From the second half of the 1970s, the military began to have a strong presence in public and political affairs, after more than 10 years of marginalisation after the “Youssifian” coup attempt in the early 1960’s. The army confronted labour unions in January 1978, while in January 1980, it intervened to face an armed rebellion in Qafsa, in southwest Tunisia. Its role gradually became more prominent by having military leadership assigned in political plans, in addition to its staff heading security establishments and branches, such as Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Habib Ammar. 

The movement focused its efforts on junior officers, petty officers and soldiers from the working class and from areas with a strong Islamist social and cultural presence.  

The main role of the security branch was primitive, as was the idea of planting Ennahda’s elements into the security establishments to provide valuable information about any programmes initiated by the state security establishments against the movement, in particular its members and details of security investigations and plans targeting Ennahda. In this way the movement was able to protect itself from the fury of authority, and most importantly, take basic action to counter any security operations against its members and locations. In addition, the special security branch was tasked to secure the defection and smuggling of elements and leaders of the wanted Ennahda members.

In the 1980s, however, the security branch wished to plan and implement a military coup to allow the movement to seize power and topple Tunisia’s president at the time, Habib Bourguiba, and his regime. This attempt is no longer a secret, after one of the movement’s leaders, Monsif Bin Salem, a former education minister, published details in his diaries in 2013, revealing that the coup attempt, thwarted by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali at the last minute, was to take place in November 1987.

Bin Salem said in his diaries that the group had a number of military personnel of different ranks, as well as members from both security agencies and civilian institutions. The group set a primary goal, which was to remove Bourguiba and his allies from power. To support this, the group’s men had access to firearms, tanks and military plans. 

He added that the arms that were not secured and were neutralised before the operation. “We chose the operation to be vertical, meaning that it depended on the base elements more than the leadership, and we also planned to add civilian support after the second and third hours of the operation,” Bin Salem said. 

“The capital was experiencing an unprecedented national uproar in the form of protests, while the movement was able to hit the streets with rallies formed of tens of thousands despite police brutality,” Bin Salem added. He stated that “the leadership of the group met on October 15th 1987, and after a review of our capabilities and locations, we decided that November 7th 1987 will be last day for Bourguiba to be in power.” 

Later on, after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali made it to power, the state turned over a new leaf with the Ennahda movement, but this did not last long. In early 1989, the movement continued secret efforts, supervised by Mohamed Shammam, via the security and military agencies after losing its fight against the regime in the legislative elections.

However, Ben Ali was the winner, as tens of officers and security personnel who were part of the 1987 coup group were purged, without alerting the movement.

In May 1991, the Tunisian ministry of interior announced the discovery of a coup plot, known as the “Brarakt Al-Sahel Case,” between the army and Ennahda, aiming to topple the Ben Ali regime and take power. The plot involved 244 officers, mainly petty officers, and a number of soldiers, including three aides to the Army’s chief of staff.

During the 1992 trial of leaders and members of the Ennahda movement, the case files revealed the issue of rebuilding the special security branch, when the movement committed initially to dismantle and stop security leaks within the military and security institutions after Ben Ali made it to power.

The desire of Islamists in Tunisia to have their own security branch comes from an old Muslim Brotherhood ideology, which always works on forming special and secretive organisations aimed at planning and implementing coups. This attribute is clearly echoed by both the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al Banna, and Iran’s Khomeini, who clearly alludes to it in his book “Lessons in Jihad and Rejection.”

The formation of the special security branch within the Tunisian Ennahda movement was not a fad in the history of Islamist movements nor was it a feature of the Tunisian movement from an organisational point of view. It was a clear Muslim Brotherhood heritage, following in the steps of its founding fathers, despite Ennahda’s continuing denials of its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood and its announcement in 2016 of the separation of religion from politics. Reality, however, says otherwise.


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