Luring jihadi fighters

Tunisian youths disillusioned with the post-revolution era have flocked to join jihadists overseas, making the birthplace of the Arab Spring the top source of foreign fighters in Syria.

Since the 2011 revolt that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and rippled across much of the Arab world, Tunisia has faced a resurgence in activity by previously suppressed jihadists.

About 3000 Tunisians have gone to Syria since the war began more than three years ago — accounting for about one-quarter of the foreign fighters there, according to US-based intelligence consultancy Soufan Group.

Tunisian officials say they have managed to prevent a further 9000 would-be fighters from travelling to Syria, a figure that cannot be independently verified.

One of those who fell on the battlefield is Salim Gasmi, according to his sister Latifa. “We were shocked when we found out that my brother had gone to Syria. He was a moderate. He loved life,” she said.

Mr Salim, 29, was employed by a trader in Libya. Without telling his family, he packed up one day and left to join the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Syria’s northeastern province of Deir Ezzor.

He was eventually captured by — and fought for — the rival al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syria franchise. He died in April.

“Once we spoke to him on Skype. We hardly recognised him. He had lost weight, his eyes had lost their sparkle and he cried saying he could no longer return home,” Ms Latifa said.

As well as the danger posed by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, the militants are now coming under regular air strikes by a US-led coalition targeting jihadists in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

While some foreigners in Syria are fighting for more moderate opposition rebels, many have joined jihadist groups such as IS, which has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring a Muslim “caliphate”.