Tag Archives: Tunisia

US Designates Groups in Libya, Tunisia as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Specially Designated Global Terrorists

On January 10th, the US Department of State announced that it was designating two groups in Libya and a group in Tunisia, all bearing the name Ansar al-Shari’a, as separate Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT).  Along with its announcement, the Department of State provided a helpful factsheet detailing the differences between the two designations.  At base the differences are as follows:

“There are two main authorities for terrorism designations of groups and individuals. Groups can be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under Executive Order 13224, a wider range of entities, including terrorist groups, individuals acting as part of a terrorist organization, and other entities such as financiers and front companies, can be designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).”

What this means is that in addition to designating these groups as both FTOs and SDGTs, three individuals were also named as SDGTs in the process.  These are Ahmed Abu Khattalah, Sufian bin Qumu, and Seifallah Ben Hassine (said to be “commonly known as ‘Abou Iyadh”).  These individuals have been identified as the leaders of the groups in question.  For both FTOs and SDGT entities, the important effects of the designation is that it becomes unlawful for US “persons” (which can be taken to mean not just citizens, but also resident aliens and other categories of people legally residing in the US) to conduct transactions and other dealings with these entities and that those entities assets may be frozen or seized.

The State Department announcement described the two Libyan groups and their leaders as follows:

“Created separately after the fall of the Qadhafi regime, Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi and Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah have been involved in terrorist attacks against civilian targets, frequent assassinations, and attempted assassinations of security officials and political actors in eastern Libya, and the September 11, 2012 attacks against the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya. Members of both organizations continue to pose a threat to U.S. interests in Libya.Ahmed Abu Khattalah is a senior leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi and Sufian bin Qumu is the leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah.”

It also described the Tunisian group and its leader as follows:

“Founded by Seifallah Ben Hassine in early 2011, Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia was involved in the September 14, 2012 attack against the U.S. Embassy and American school in Tunis, which put the lives of over one hundred United States employees in the Embassy at risk. The Tunisian government has declared Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia a terrorist organization, and the group has been implicated in attacks against Tunisian security forces, assassinations of Tunisian political figures, and attempted suicide bombings of locations that tourists frequent. Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia, which is ideologically aligned with al-Qa’ida and tied to its affiliates, including AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], represents the greatest threat to U.S. interests in Tunisia.”

What is notable about these descriptions is that the Tunisian group was linked to AQIM, while the two Libyan groups were not.  The link to Al Qaeda’s resurgent regional affiliate remains a significant portion of the continuing domestic political debate in the US regarding the events in Benghazi in 2012.  The Obama administration has been accused of attempting to cover up involvement by terrorists, often specifically Al Qaeda.  Other investigations have suggested that the level of planning and coordination in the attacks is far less than has been suggested by these critics and that there is no evidence of Al Qaeda involvement.  These investigations have also been criticized.  The military response to the crisis, Operation Jukebox Lotus, was also widely criticized, and became the impetus for the expansion of US military crisis response capabilities, particularly in Africa.

Details of US Security Assistance Efforts in North Africa

Yesterday at a hearing on the Political, Economic, and Security Situation in Africa held by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory provided some important information on US security assistance efforts in North Africa.  Dory specifically detailed efforts being conducted by the US government in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.  Here are the salient points:


US Government departments and agencies, to include the department of defense are working with the Algerian government to expand cooperation and build security force capabilities.  This includes information sharing and training exercises, as well as equipment for “counterterrorism  purposes” and to enhance “defense capabilities.”  The testimony identified previous military equipment delivered by the US as including eight C-130 aircraft and an unnamed border security system built by Northrop Grumman.   The US military is also said to run an International Military Education and Training (IMET) program with the Algerian military to help modernize and enhance the professionalization of their forces.


The US military, as well as other government agencies, are heavily invested in the development of Libyan security forces and their capabilities.  Most notably, the United States has offered to provide “General Purpose Force” military training for 5,000-8,000 Libyan personnel.  These forces would be used to protect the government and help establish order, which has been a significant issue since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.  This is part of a larger US and international effort that builds on consensus reached at a Paris Ministerial-level meeting on supporting Libya’s security and justice sector needs in February and British Prime Minister Cameron’s announcement at the G-8 Summit in June about expanding international support for Libya’s security sector.  In addition to the US training offer, both the United Kingdom and Italy have committed to train 2,000 Libyan General Purpose Forces personnel, each.  Dory said that the US expected to begin training in 2014 using funds from the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and would be conducted at an unnamed facility in Bulgaria, which would be US leased and US run.

The US is also working to establish a Libyan special operations forces capability.  This effort is funded in two ways.  The first is an $8.42 million special operations support company and medical training program funded through Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The others is a $7.75 million special operations forces company build program funded through the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF; Section 1207 of the NDAA), which is a joint Department of Defense and Department of State fund.  It is unclear whether these programs are related to the special operations training effort that was reportedly stalled following a raid on a US-run training camp in September.

$14.9 million in GSCF funds are also to be used to improve Libyan border security capabilities and those of its neighbors, Algeria, Chad, and Niger.  Establishment of a Libyan border security company is part of this effort.

Lastly, the US is working with the Libyan government on a chemical weapons abatement program at Waddan said to total $45 million dollars.  These efforts are being conducted by contractors, who have set up a static detonation chamber and hope to have eliminated the rest of the stockpile by the end of the year.  The little reported US follow-on mission to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in 2011, Operation Odyssey Guard, involved securing Libya’s chemical weapon stockpile and the beginning of efforts to eliminate it.


Morocco is a major non-NATO ally of the US with which there is a long history of cooperation.  Every year the US holds a bilateral training exercise, African Lion, with Moroccan forces.  The two countries conduct various other engagements regularly as well, such as an IMET program.   The US also works to provide Moroccan forces with significant materiel support through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Excess Defense Articles programs.


The US government is working with Tunisia to expand the capabilities of its security forces to help in regional counter-terrorism efforts and improve border security.  The US provides training and material assistance to the country through the FMF program and conducts an IMET program with the country’s security forces.

A copy of the full testimony can be found here.