The public rise of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) – the radical Islamist group recently listed as a terrorist organisation by the Tunisian government – first began two and a half years ago, and online.
On 27 April, 2011, a blog titled the al-Qayrawan Media Foundation (QMF) was created, and two days later a corresponding Facebook page was established. Then, on 15 May, another Facebook page under the name Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia was launched, coinciding with the announcement that a conference would be convened in Tunis on 21 May.
This is the public story of AST’s emergence, and since 2011, the group’s visibility has grown significantly; the group has courted controversy through its protests against blasphemy, been accused of involvement in political violence, and been banned by the state. Yet the organisation remains poorly understood, not least with regards to its real origins, the story of which stretches several years further back than 2011, runs much deeper into Tunisian politics than has otherwise been disclosed, and has up to now stayed largely concealed.
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