Clearer profile of terrorist emerging
TUNIS - Just hours after Seifeddine Rezgui killed 38 Western tourists at the Tunisian beach resort of Sousse, video emerged on social media of the 23-year-old showing off his breakdancing moves and agility.
In the opening seconds of the video, a friend presents an adolescent Rezgui as “Sésco”, “the youngest breakdancer in the Ezzouhour neighbourhood”, referring to part of Rezgui’s hometown Gaafour.
Dressed in a hip-hop cap, a golden necklace and a long-sleeve black shirt emblazoned with a golden graphic that reads “This is me,” Rezgui performs stylish dances and spectacular somersaults to a remixed hit of Belgian rapper Stromae.
Sésco’s early social media activity, as well as testimonies from friends, reveals a profile that resembles that of many Tunisian youngsters. He played football in the streets, sat at the local café with friends and listened to Shakira and Eminem.
In the space of a few years, however, Sésco transformed into “Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani”, the jihadist moniker Rezgui adopted once his radicalisation became complete. Kairouan, some 150 kilometres south of Gaafour and 60 kilometres west of Sousse, is where Rezgui pursued his studies after graduating from high school and where he became radicalised.
Since the 2011 Tunisian revolution, Kairouan has become a hub of extremist Islam. Ansar al-Sharia, a radical Islamist group linked to terrorist attacks in Tunisia and involved in recruiting jihadists for the Islamic State (ISIS), had its second national rally there in 2012.
Rezgui showed signs of radicalisation after enrolling in a professional master’s programme in electrical engineering last October. According to a report by a Tunisian TV channel, he grew a beard and frequented suspect mosques where he, in all likelihood, was intensely indoctrinated.
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid revealed in a news conference following the attack that Rezgui was completely unknown to authorities. He was issued a passport in 2013 but never travelled abroad.
Rezgui’s transformation also apparently came as a surprise to his friends and family, who say that he was an affable and respectful man with introverted tendencies. News reports have shown an incredulous and shocked Hakim Rezgui, father of the assailant, bemoaning the fate of his son, saying: “He did not have any problems with anyone. I have no clue who put these ideas in his head.”
Seifeddine Rezgui was known to be an observant Muslim who prayed regularly but seldom talked about religion.
None of his relatives noticed anything out of the ordinary in the days preceding the attack when Rezgui was home in Gaafour. His uncle Hassine Rezgui said that on June 25th, a day before the attack, his nephew “took a shower, shaved and said that he was going out with a friend”. Rezgui told his grandfather the same.
One June 26th, Rezgui, clean-shaven, carrying a beach umbrella and dressed in a black T-shirt and shorts, looked like any other holidaymaker as he strolled leisurely on the Imperial Marhaba Hotel beach, moments before shooting.
While it is almost certain that Rezgui had support in planning and executing the attack, the gunman’s affiliation with any organisations or groups remains uncertain. ISIS praised in an official statement the Tunisian jihadist’s “major raid” against “nationals of the crusader alliance countries” but the extent of its involvement is unknown.
It is possible that Rezgui’s attack was that of a self-motivated lone wolf, though a Tunisian security source told Reuters that Rezgui “was in contact with extremists outside of Tunisia, through the internet”.
Rafik Chelli, Tunisian secretary of the state to the minister of the interior, told the Associated Press on June 30th that Rezgui had illegally crossed into Libya in January and received training in Sabratha, a town in north-western Libya controlled by jihadists.
“It has been confirmed that the attacker trained in Libya with weapons at the same period as the Bardo attackers,” Chelli said.
Rezgui was in Libya at the same time than Yassine Labidi and Saber Khachnaoui, perpetrators of the terrorist attack against the Bardo National Museum in March. The Bardo attack targeted tourists as well and was also claimed by ISIS.