On July 9, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (JNIM), al-Qaeda’s official branch in Mali, released a video that featured Abu ‘Iyadh al-Tunisi, the founder of Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia (AST), alongside al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib’s (AQIM) amir Abu Mus’ab ‘Abd al-Wadud and JNIM deputy amir Yahya Abu al-Humam. All three have been killed for a while now, but what is relevant is that it is the first time that Abu ‘Iyadh appeared in person next to such senior figures. Illustrating again the importance of Abu ‘Iyadh to AQIM’s broader network, but also to AQ’s in general.
It is also worth highlighting that in both this most recent release from JNIM and the release from AQIM announcing Abu ‘Iyadh’s martyrdom is that he is the focal point of said promotional materials for the releases. It is plausible this is the case since in the past it has been reported that Abu ‘Iyadh was allegedly one of ‘Usamah Bin Ladin’s top ten lieutenants in the entire AQ network. This could be why we saw such an outpouring of martyrdom eulogy statements from AQ branches when Abu ‘Iyadh was confirmed killed by AQIM: Huras al-Din, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin, and al-Qaeda’s Senior Leadership. This type of celebration from these groups’ perspective only occurs to the most senior of leaders within AQ’s network.
Beyond the relevance of Abu ‘Iyadh being at the center of both promotional graphics, as I showed in my book on the history of Tunisian jihadism, concurrently with being the leader and running AST, Abu ‘Iyadh had also been on AQIM’s sharia committee. And more recently, Wassim Nasr, an analyst and journalist at France 24, based on multiple sources, told me that Abu ‘Iyadh had also been on AQIM’s shura council and was apparently asked to do a number of other tasks in the organization due to his skills. However, he was too busy to take all of them on, which shows how he was perceived at the upper echelons of the organization.
At some point, I would love to write a detailed biography of what we know of Abu ‘Iyadh’s career as a jihadi. Many of these details are in my book, but not in one location together.