The training of terrorists in Tunisia: a state crime

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An investigation prepared by:

Abdel Nasser Aouini: Lawyer and researcher

Latifa Hosni: Journalist and researcher

Chapter one: The controversy over the decision to organize training courses

What is the truth about the training courses for members of “Fajr Libya” (Dawn of Libya) organized in Tunisia? Who covered up this activity? Who reaped the financial and political rewards from the training courses? To what extent were high ranking political and security figures involved in this crime? How could the Ministry of the Interior deal again with security officers who had been sacked from office?

This report sheds light on the elements and causes of this crime that was committed in the summer of 2013 in the midst of a fragile security situation in Tunisia and in a year which saw the assassination of two prominent political leaders. The first to be killed was Chokri Belaid on February 6 followed by Mohamed Brahmi on July 25. In the same year, Tunisian soldiers were massacred on the passes of Mount Chaambi in the governorate of Kasserine by terrorist groups.

The difficult period the country was going through brought to the forefront the issue of security.

During this critical time, a Tunisian citizen visited several hotels in the city of Hammamet to book a number of rooms and meeting halls. This would not have raised suspicion had it not been for this person contacting retired Tunisian security officers meanwhile. The suspicion appeared to be well grounded as this person’s intentions were revealed. He was hoping in fact to organize training sessions for Libyan security groups to be conducted by senior Tunisian security officials who have either been sacked or sent to retirement.

First: Inconsistent statements by the security department

Wahid Toujani, the then Director General of National Security at the Ministry of the Interior, declared that his department and other security services, including the Secret Services, were surprised at receiving frequent reports about the determination displayed by a Tunisian national to organize a training course for the benefit of a Libyan security group, without this being officially approved by the authorities. This prompted Mr. Toujani to instruct the Directorate-General of Secret Services to summon the security attaché at the Libyan embassy for a meeting with Mr. Toujani in the presence of the Director General of Secret Services. The Libyan official was invited to provide clarifications about what the Tunisian national intended to do by organizing a training course for the benefit of a Libyan security group without this being coordinated with the Tunisian authorities.

The meeting was tense because the standards governing the relationship between two official bodies were being breached. Indeed, no prior notification was delivered to the Tunisian side so as measures could be taken to ensure the training takes place in safe conditions and in accordance with the relevant academic standards. These measures were all the more important given that certificates were to be delivered to trainees at the end of the training course. What is more, the presence of a large group of foreigners in more than one hotel required a special plan to be put in place to ensure their security, something that was neither prepared nor coordinated. Wahid Toujani threatened to refuse the organization of the training and to stop the Libyans who wanted to be trained from entering Tunisia and their plane from landing at Enfidha airport.

In the wake of these events, Wahid Toujani briefed Lotfi Ben Jeddou, the then Tunisian Minister of the Interior about the situation. In the meantime, the technical units at the Ministry of the Interior in Tunisia learned that the security attaché at the Libyan embassy had contacted the Libyan Minister of the Interior to inform him that Wahid Toujani rejected the organization of the training courses in case there was no coordination with the security services reporting to Mr. Toujani and that he threatened not to allow the Libyan plane to land. The Libyan Minister of the Interior advised him not to give importance to Mr. Toujani’s words, suggesting that he should ignore them. 

The training courses started and Wahid Toujani stood aside and watched. Subsequently, while the training sessions were going on, he talked to Samir Tarhouni, the head of the Training Department at the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior, about future organizational arrangements. As for the financial aspects, he had no knowledge of them. 

It should be noted that Wahid Toujani expressed his opposition to the organization of these training sessions to the Minister of the Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou while they were waiting to meet the President of the Republic in one of the reception halls at the presidential palace in Carthage. The Libyan Minister of the Interior who was sitting in the same room reacted sharply and angrily “This is none of your business. You are against this operation”. Wahid Toujani preferred to keep silent in the presence of minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou, who tried to calm his Libyan counterpart down, indicating that they were about to meet the President of the Republic.

Atef Omrani, Director-General of the Secret Services General Department, did not understand why his boss, the Director General of National Security, Wahid Toujani, was surprised by the information on the training. In fact, Mr. Omrani had shared reports with him since the end of the summer of 2013 indicating that a Tunisian citizen called Ben Abdullah, who had an office in the Lac District, and a Libyan national called Lassoued, who was introducing himself as an advisor to the Libyan Minister of the Interior at the time, were preparing to receive a group of Libyans to attend a training course for the benefit of the employees of the Libyan Ministry of the Interior. The intelligence gathered indicated that the two men frequently called hotels located in Hammamet to book accommodation and conference rooms. Mr. Omrani had also previously submitted reports on retired Tunisian trainers and the content of the courses they delivered there. That was all he could do within the scope of his duties. Moreover, to avoid any trouble, Mr. Omrani, did not express his opinion about the situation. Nevertheless, the matter was discussed in the meetings of the National Security Council. Mr. Omrani does not recall whether he was instructed to prepare a report to be submitted to the Head of Government. Meanwhile, the possibility of banning a plane carrying a group of Libyan senior staff members bound for Enfidha airport from disembarking was ruled out.

Ali Laarayedh, the then Head of Government, does not remember if the issue of the training courses was raised in his presence. He declared that his term in office was marked by disruption at the social and security levels, including the assassination of Constituent Assembly deputy Mohamed Brahmi, the numerous terrorist attacks carried out in the country, the listing of Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organization, the fragile security situation in general and the attempt to regain control at the border with Libya, a country that was experiencing major upheavals and a great deal of instability.

Ali Laarayedh accepts no responsibility

Ali Laarayedh said he knew nothing about the fact that a private company was running training courses for the benefit of groups of security officers. He did not know, but he is not sure!!! He does not remember at all? A long time has passed indeed and so many things have happened. Nevertheless, he said that if he had been aware of the situation, he would have raised questions regarding the identity of the company and its objectives and owners. He would also have studied the implications on national security with the Minister of the Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou.

Second: The intervention of the Presidency- when political leadership is disrupted

Talks about cooperation with the Libyan Ministry of the Interior had started since early 2012, when Ali Laarayedh was the Minister of the Interior. Meetings were organized with his Libyan counterparts to discuss technical cooperation, the exchange of experiences, and military training and drills. However, even though a formal agreement was concluded between the Libyan and Tunisian sides, the Libyans preferred to go to Jordan, and the agreement fell through. Ali laarayedh also expressed surprise at what Taoufik Kasmi, the Director General of Presidential Security, said about preventing a Libyan plane with Libyan security officers on board from landing at the Enfidha airport. In fact, there are basic rules concerning civil aviation, including that only the President of the Republic, in his capacity as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces can ban an aircraft from landing if it represents a danger to the security of the country.

Ali Laarayedh also confirmed that he was not aware of the visit carried out by Libyan officials in connection with these training sessions, in particular the visit by Siddiq Abdel Karim who was received with Lotfi Bin Jeddou by the President of the Republic. Ali Laarayedh had no knowledge about this meeting in the presidential palace.

Lotfi Ben Jeddou denies Ali Laarayedh’s statements

Lotfi Ben Jeddou, the Minister of the Interior in Ali Laarayedh’s government, knew that the departments of his ministry, notably the National Security General Department, the Secret Services General Department and the Public Security General Department, all had knowledge of the existence of a private company which was organizing training courses for the benefit of the staff of the Libyan Ministry of the Interior in a hotel in Hammamet. They also knew that Tunisian security officers who had been sacked from office or sent to retirement were leading this training. Ben Jeddou declared that he and the directors of the aforementioned departments refused to let a private company provide such services without prior approval given the official and sovereign nature of such training courses, let alone that the said company had ties to the government of Tripoli.

The Minister of the Interior of the Government of Tripoli, Al Siddiq Abdel Karim, provided arguments in support of his position, namely that the training of Libyan citizens working for the Ministry of the Interior did not need all these precautions to be taken. However, he changed his mind after talking the matter over with the directors general of security, in particular the Director General of National Security and the Director of Secret Services. Now he was against a private company organizing the training on behalf of a Libyan official body. The sheer presence of a group of Libyan officials in a hotel posed a threat to their security since they could be targeted by local or Libyan terrorist groups. In addition, there were reservations about the trainers themselves, all of whom were security officers who had been either sacked or sent into retirement. Clearly, the training courses could be carried out only through official channels.

Lotfi Ben Jeddou confirmed that all these reservations were officially reported to the Head of Government and that neither Ali Laarayedh nor the President of the Republic showed any objection in relation thereto. Ben Jeddou remembers that the Libyan Minister of the Interior, Al Siddiq Abdel Karim, accompanied by an official delegation, was received at the Ministry of the Interior in accordance with the established protocol. The Director General of National Security, Wahid Toujani, was present at the meeting. Later on that day they all went to meet the President of the Republic at the Presidential Palace. While waiting to be received by the President, a heated discussion took place between the Libyan Minister and the Director General of National Security, who expressed resentment at the official Libyan authorities entrusting a private company with such a sensitive training. The Libyan minister reacted angrily and accused the Director General of National Security of not being willing to cooperate with the Libyan authorities.

Lotfi Ben Jeddou intervened to calm the Libyan minister down, explaining that what Wahid Toujani talked about was on the agenda of the discussions. The delegation was then received by the President of the Republic and the issue was not raised during the meeting.

The Director General of Public Security, Mustapha Ben Omar, was not aware of the problem, since he had been removed from office and replaced by Abd El Sattar Salmi. While performing his duties, Mr. Salmi raised the issue of a private company located in the Lac District that was about to give training courses for a group of employees of the Libyan Ministry of the Interior at a hotel in Hammamet. Mr. Salmi deemed the situation all the more inacceptable given the way the training was prepared and the lack of security information about the company and the beneficiaries of this activity.

Abd El Sattar Salmi talked of the training with the directors general, in particular Wahid Toujani and Atef Omrani. The issue fell indeed under the remit of the security department he headed and to which reports were submitted before bringing them to the attention of the Director General of National Security. Only notes concerning the relevance of the activity were made without expressing an opinion in relation thereto.

Zouhair Seddik, Head of the Central Operations Department which is in charge of coordinating the work of the different security units, receiving reports from them before notifying the relevant authorities, was also in the know. He in turn denied Taoufik Kasmi’s statements about banning the passengers of the Libyan plane from disembarking.

Banning the passengers of the Libyan plane from disembarking

For his part, Karem Gmizah, the then Director of the Security District in Nabeul, declared that he had received a letter from the Central Operations Department of the Ministry of the Interior on November 7, 2013 concerning a request from a private training company called la Société international de formation, to organize training courses on capacity building and leadership for the benefit of Libyan security officers. The intelligence gathered indicated that 15 Tunisian trainers in the field of security, who were either sacked or sent to retirement security officers, and a university professor called Samir Hamdi were delivering training to a group of Libyan nationals. It was also revealed that the owner of the training company was himself a Libyan national called Fawzi Lassoued and that the trainees worked for the Libyan Ministry of the Interior. The first group comprised of 300 trainees and the training was scheduled to take place in the period from November 10 to 25, 2013, in the Russelior, El Mouradi and Royal hotels.

Karim Gmizah added that Wahid Toujani instructed him to stop the training from taking place, particularly that the trainers were security officers who had been sacked from office. To this end, he coordinated the steps to be taken with the head of the Hammamet Security District and with Adel Ashour, the Director of the Carthage Security District, since the training company was headquartered in the Lac District which fell under his jurisdiction. However, the training courses took place after the decision to ban them was overturned as we explain in chapter 2 below.

Chapter two: Details of the training courses

From late 2013 to early 2014, during the transition period between the second government of the Ennahda party, led by Ali Laarayedh, and the government of Mahdi Jomaa, it was decided to organize five security training courses for the benefit of about 1500 Libyan security personnel and officers, without this decision being notified to, or authorized by the relevant official authorities. Several parties were behind this project, including mainly YOUMA for Training, a private company owned by Nour eddine Ben AbbasOlfa Khalil Arem, director of a training and consulting company, Mourad Ben Ramadan, general manager of a company, Samir Hamdi, university professor, and Yosri Dali, a security officer who had been sacked from office after the revolution. The project was coordinated with The International Company for Training Qualification Studies & Consulting, a private Libyan company represented by Faouzi Lassoued, a Libyan national, with a view to establishing the necessary contacts and providing the logistics and premises for the implementation of the project.

The project was organized into five training sessions:

  • From 11/10/2013 to 26/11/2013 with 263 trainees,
  • From 11/26/2013 to 12/12/2013 with 265 trainees, 
  • From 12/12/2013 to 12/28/2013 with 450 trainees, 
  • From 28/12/2103 to 13/01/2014 with 432 trainees. 
  • From 01/14/2014 to 05/02 2014 with 179 trainees.

The courses focused on communication, leadership and stress management, as well as on relations with citizens.

How were the training sessions conducted? Who were the trainers and participants?

First: the role of civilians in the organization of the training sessions

The term “civilians” in this report refers to persons who hold no official, political or security-related positions. They are the owners of commercial companies and university professors, who, they declared, were behind the training initiative. The first to have initiated the project were Nour Eddine Ben Abbas, owner of YOUMA Training Company, and Fawzi Lassoued, owner of the Libyan Group for Industrial Technology. The coming into play of other actors occurred as the project progressed. The stated purpose was naturally to win the contract to organize the training and make profit. It was confirmed that there had been no coordination with the relevant authorities nor had a license been granted to that effect in spite of the sensitive nature of the project and the lack of visibility with regard to the political and security situation in Libya. 

  1. The role of some businesspersons in legitimizing the project

At first sight, we note that the readiness of some businesspersons and the intense competition they engaged in to win the contract to organize the training project or to participate in it was a way to make quick money and to collect a share of the financial liquidity flowing in an irregular and uncontrollable manner outside the official channels in Tunisia after the fall of the Gaddafi regime and the collapse of the Libyan state. Indeed, a private “ad hoc” market came into being on the occasion of the Libyan client’s desire to buy part of the Tunisian security expertise for the benefit of alleged security officers working for the Libyan Ministry of the Interior. However, despite the bilateral and regional agreements in force regarding security cooperation between the two countries, the organization of the training sessions came about as a result of an agreement between businesspersons and private companies. The source of the informal funding used to cover the cost of the training was unknown. The Minister of the Interior in Ali Zidan’s government was present at the closing of the second training session only after the Tunisian security senior officials threatened to interrupt the first session and notified the organizing parties of the possibility of stopping the project. In this regard, the document shows that the businesspersons and entrepreneurs participating in the project had privileged access to the highest decision-making spheres in the country and were capable of cancelling the decision of the security services to suspend the training sessions.

Based on various statements, the document shows that the said businesspersons together with Fawzi Mohamed Hasan Lassoued (a Libyan national who was the owner of the Libyan Industrial Technology Group Company and sponsor of the project) were in control of the project’s decision-making, financing, organization and consolidation aspects. Along the way, Mr. Lassoued created a company called “The Comprehensive International for Training Qualification”, that he used to directly supervise the carrying out of the training sessions, with the support of his friend and partner Mourad Ben Ramadan. Over the course of the investigation, the following names were frequently mentioned:

  • Chafik Jarraya, a businessperson known for his complex and ambiguous relations with many Libyan parties. He followed up the implementation of the courses. Moreover, information about the project and the contributors to the project was stored in the computer of Kawther Daasi, Mr. Jarraya’s secretary.
  • Rafik Moalla, owner of “Al Taqadom com” and “Al Taqadom for Training and Rehabilitation”. He had ties with many security officers who had been sacked from office. He proposed their names as trainers, and paid for the design of their business cards and for the preparation of their CVs. He also took two security officers who had been sacked from office with him to Libya to negotiate some of the details of the project.  
  • Noureddine Abbas, owner of Youma Training Company. He was behind the idea of the project which he promoted with the libyans. Mr. Abbas advocated the project’s feasibility with Lotfi Ben Jeddou, the then Minister of the Interior and tried to convince him of the necessity to overturn the decision to stop the training program.
  • Olfa Khalil Arem, director of Eyes Coach (and later on one of the leaders of Nidaa Tounes party). She supervised the conduct of the technical component of the training courses. She also contacted Aziz Krishan, the adviser to the President of the Republic, to support the implementation of the training.
  • Mohamed Damak, owner of Dell Carnegie. He was contacted on the initiative of the trainers.
  • Mohamed Mondher Kurji, director of Over Seas, a travel agency that was in charge of logistics and accommodation 

2. The contribution of experts to the training

A key criterion for the selection of the trainers, be they university professors or experts, was academic and practical knowledge about the field of human development. A committee was set up to check the CVs of the candidate trainers and only those who met the standards required by the Libyan client were shortlisted. It was Samir Hamdi, a university professor and a lecturer at the National Security School in Salambo, who supervised the selection process. He prepared a training curriculum in life skills with a focus on communication, leadership, stress management and relations with citizens.  

Once the training curriculum approved by the Libyan client, a meeting attended by Samir Hamdi was held at the office of Noureddine Ben Abbas. Mourad Ben Ramadan, Olfa Khalil Arem, a representative of Dell Carnegie and Faouzi Lassoued, a Libyan national, were also present in the office. A committee comprised of university professors and independent experts was set up to interview the candidate trainers. Only one candidate was successful. His name is Slah Eddine Ben Fadhel, a university professor in psychology who, it seems, was not interviewed at all by the committee (nor was he heard for the purpose of the investigation). Subsequently, a list of security officers who had been sacked from office after the revolution was obtained by Samir Hamdi in coordination with Yosri Dali, who had himself been dismissed from the Ministry of the Interior. The list was endorsed by the Libyan client.

Second: Content and conduct of the training courses

This section of the report is important because there are obvious questions about some details which the investigator did not take into account and to which no answers have been provided in the case file.

What content did the trainers deliver to the participants? Was it their operational experience or only their theoretical knowledge?

Have direct relations been established between the Libyan side (a private company whose owner lived in Tunisia) and the security officers who had been sacked or sent to retirement?

Have the security officers in charge of watching the conduct of the training courses documented the activities thereto and drafted and submitted reports to their superiors?

  1. Training content and objectives

Almost all respondents unanimously declared that the training for the benefit of the Libyan participants focused solely on communication techniques, stress management and leadership. The data gathered indicates that 1598 persons received the training which was delivered by 21 senior security officers as well as by less high ranking officers over a series of two-week sessions. No details were provided. However, the trainers confirmed that the training was only theoretical in nature.  

This is all the more intriguing given that the technical knowledge of some trainers and their professional careers did not allow them to deliver theoretical courses in the aforementioned fields. The respondents said that they all delivered the same content, with some of them pretending to have taught all the subjects. Could it be a sheer coincidence that a National Guard officer who specializes in armored vehicles, a prison officer and a former director of the intelligence services all delivered the same training content? The strangest case of all was that of a trainer who had spent 35 years in the intelligence departments until he retired without working his way up through the officer ranks. This trainer declared that he trained the Libyan officers in stress management, communication and leadership. When faced with the fact that they were breaching the law on security services and on retirement, they confirmed that “in no way had professional secrecy been breached and that the training courses did not deal with security topics but focused only on stress management, leadership and communication.”    

2. Who were the security trainers and how were they recruited?

Among the respondents, there were 21 senior security officers and less high-ranking officers who were among the trainers. Some of them were there since the beginning of the training sessions while others joined in subsequently. 15 of them were either sacked from office or sent to retirement while six trainers were direct members of the Training General Department. The trainers who had been either sacked from office or sent to retirement were seven National Guard officers, seven police officers, and one prison officer.

The rates varied. The trainers from among the officers who had been sacked from office or sent to retirement were paid 500 TD a day for three to four working days per week. The trainers from the Training General Department received 1400 TD each, as reported by one of them (2100 TD according to the documents added by the Department) for an average of nine days of work during the training sessions.

The recruitment of the trainers was a big question mark. First, they were paid cash. Second, it is hardly possible to provide an estimate of the real wage bill and of the project’s budget in general. The state’s tax authorities could not collect the taxes and fees due, which amounts to the project turning into some kind of an informal business activity which was neither authorized nor taxed. 

The third issue is the act of collusion involving an elite group of former security officers and senior officers who had been in the past in charge of enforcing the laws of the country and of protecting the country’s borders, including from the smugglers. In denial of all the principles that were theirs in the past, they now accepted to be hired secretly to train others on leadership and communication in flagrant violation of the law.  

Conclusion

This document was only a sneak preview into a comprehensive policy the main lines of which started to see the light of day in the aftermath of the revolution before it took firm hold after the elections of 23 October 2011. The advent of the troika government led by Ennahda party, a party which is still in power, heralded the weakening of the state through the infiltration of the security apparatus by means of dirty money and partisan decisions and policies as well as by harassing the ministry of the Interior’s personnel to wheedle them or neutralize them at least. Another goal pursued by this government was to harden off terrorism and to open the door to providing intelligence to the secret services of some other countries.

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