Terrorists who have fled Idlib (in Syria), in part due to actions taken by Turkey, are dispersing throughout Africa thus posing a security threat to the entire North African region.
Their numbers are especially high in Libya and Tunisia today. According to many commentators, Turkey, in its desire not to sacrifice its military personnel to protect its own geopolitical interests by providing military assistance to Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNC), has shown its willingness to transform Libya and Tunisia into breeding grounds for terrorism by actively directing mercenaries to these two countries.
The reason Ankara has chosen Tunisia as one of the destinations for militants from Syria is that after Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, won in Tunisia’s parliamentary elections in October 2019, Islamists began to consolidate their position in this nation. In addition, it is worth pointing out that Ennahda’s ideology has been, in many ways, inspired by that of the Muslim Brotherhood (a terrorist organization banned in Russia), which Turkey and Qatar actively support. It is important not to forget that Turkey is a nation whose leadership includes players from moderate Islamist ranks or more precisely, the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey. Hence, it is no secret that armed units supporting Fayez al-Sarraj’s GNC and Turkey’s leaders share an ideology to a certain extent (although, of course, there are also some differences).
Tunisia has endured some hardships since the ousting of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, its autocratic President, 9 years ago. The nation that focused on developing its tourism industry by building hundreds of high-quality hotels on its coastline has faced grave challenges due to terrorist attacks that have had a negative impact on Tunisia’s tourism sector and left many Tunisians without work. Thus, it is hardly a coincidence that over 6,000 Tunisians joined Daesh (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) in the hopes of attaining financial stability while battling “non-believers” in Syria and Iraq. A number of western political scientists believe that ethnic Tunisians and Tunisian citizens comprised the largest unit of Daesh.
In recent months, as the Muslim Brotherhood continues to receive support from Turkey and Qatar and Fayez al-Sarraj’s GNC from the West, Daesh fighters have been actively coming to Tunisia from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries in order to make some money from waging a war against civilians. Nowadays, this process is facilitated by the creation of a shadow economy and various schemes aimed at financing terrorist networks (i.e. establishing training camps and recruiting new members) in the North African nation.
On joining GNC’s illegitimate armed units, newly arrived militants from Syria are instigating provocations against Libyan armed forces on a regular basis, staging attacks against civilians in Tripoli, and robbing and kidnapping people. Some media outlets have reported that there are already more than 4,000 of them in Libya, and that Turkey is training more fighters in special camps situated in the north-eastern regions of Syria. According to a former terrorist arrested in Tunisia, first recruits go through an initial military training and are then immediately sent to Libya.
Turkey continues to move militants from Syria to Libya in order to provide support to the GNC by using Tunisia as a transfer point. Weapons and ammunition are being delivered to the fighters in Libya by air and by sea. Based on data provided by the FlightRadar24 flight tracking service, Air Moldova’s Boeing 747-412 left Istanbul at 9.50 a.m. on 25 December 2019 and landed in Libya’s Misrata airport. Earlier, Ankara had also supplied militants (repeatedly linked to Daesh, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, all terrorist organizations banned in Russia) backing the GNC in Libya with ammunition, military equipment and trainers. According to research conducted by journalists, the first sizable delivery of military equipment, arms and ammunition arrived from Turkey on 18 May 2019, when AMAZON, a vessel flying the flag of the Moldova Republic, arrived in the Port of Tripoli carrying Turkish Kirpi II and Vuran MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles for armed units supporting the GNC. International organizations have also confirmed that Turkey has illegally supplied arms to the Government of National Accord. According to a report issued by the United Nations Security Council, deliveries also occurred from 27 May to 21 July 2019 from Istanbul and Ankara to Libya’s Misrata airport by air. The aircraft broker for all of the flights was the Turkish division of ProAir-Charter-Transport GmbH while the carriers were the airlines: JSC Ukraine Air Alliance and LLC SkyAviatrans.
Despite external support, the militants have been suffering substantial losses in Libya. On 18 March, the GNC fighters together with mercenaries from Syria attacked positions held by the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Ain Zara. As a result, the LNA killed 36 terrorists, including 6 commanders, and wounded 200 more. Ziad Balaam was among the injured. He was transported to Istanbul for treatment but Turkish medical staff were unable to save his life and he died the next day after the battle against the LNA. Ziad Balaam was one of the most wanted terrorists operating in Libya. He was a member of Al-Qaeda (an international terrorist organization banned in Russia) and one of the leaders of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. In September 2012, Ziad Balaam and a number of jihadists from Al-Qaeda staged an attack against the US Embassy in Benghazi.
As a result of successful military operations conducted by the Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in order to free Libya from foreign militants, fighters backing the GNC have been returning to their transfer point, Tunisia, in recent weeks. And in January of this year, Tunisian airport security arrested Firas al-Saluqi (nicknamed al-Wahshi), a former fighter for the GNC who had arrived at Carthage Airport with a Turkish passport. On 8 January, the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior issued a statement saying that 19 more people had been arrested for trying to illegally enter Tunisia not far from the nation’s border with Libya. It is now public knowledge that Ankara gives militants under its sway Turkish passports for their “achievements” not only in Libya but also in Syria. In fact, mercenaries from Syria are currently fighting on the side of GNC in Libya for a chance to become Turkish citizens.
At the end of January, the Permanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations stated that his nation was extremely concerned about the arrival of mercenaries from Syria in Libya, and pointed out that they were recruited by Turkey. Supposedly, the number of Syrian mercenaries meant to fight in Libya has already reached 4,400. Approximately 2,600 of them from military units have already been sent to Tripoli, while 1,800 are still being trained in Turkish camps to assist the GNC, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj. It is also common knowledge that numerous fighters are being recruited in the Syrian city of Afrin and a number of other settlements in the north-eastern parts of Syria.
The government and some people of Tunisia have demanded that Turkey stop supporting terrorists backing the GNC in Libya. According to the Libyan Address Journal, Tunisian activists staged a sizable protest against Turkish interference in Libya in front of the Turkish embassy at the end of December. They demanded that Ankara stop backing fighters from the GNC in Libya who have, on more than one occasion, been tied to Daesh, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood (organizations banned in Russia). The protesters also urged Turkey not to involve Tunisia in this conflict by using its territories to coordinate “the planned military intervention” in Libya.
Vladimir Platov, Middle East expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.