Tunisia Islamists seek jihad in Syria with one eye on home

November 19, 2013

(Hayet Saadi, mother of Aymen Saadi, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Anis Mili )

Aymen Saadi’s brief call to jihad began with dreams of fighting for an Islamic state in Syria and ended with a botched suicide bombing attempt in a crowd of foreign tourists in Tunisia.

Guards tackled the Tunisian teenager before he detonated his bomb at a presidential mausoleum last month south of Tunis. Minutes earlier, a fellow bomber had blown himself up into a bloody mess across the sand at a popular beach resort a few kilometres away.

Saadi’s mission may have failed, and the beach bomber killed only himself, but Tunisia’s first suicide attack in a decade was shock enough for the small North African nation; the war with militant Islam was at its door.

Tunisia’s interior’s ministry says its initial investigation indicates Al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Sharia carried out the attempted twin bombing.

Saadi might not have reached Syria’s battlefields, but his journey from middle-class student to would-be suicide bomber reveals how far that conflict has become a clarion call for homegrown jihadists.

The bloodshed in Syria – as in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s and Iraq in the past decade – is drawing young foreign recruits into Islamist militant ranks only to spit them back out again to return home hardened by fundamentalist fervour and war.

Saadi now sits in a Tunisian jail, but his case and those of other Tunisian jihadists are a warning about how militants, many trained in Libyan camps and dispatched to battles in Aleppo and Idlib, may come back to haunt North Africa.

Read the full story by Patrick Markey and Tarek Amara here.

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