On Monday, news emerged that a U.S. drone attack (using blades) had assassinated two Tunisian jihadists in Idlib city.
One eulogy to them on the pro-al-Qa'ida Telegram channel 'Radd Adwan al-Bughat' reads as follows:
'God is our reliance and He suffices as trustee. To God we belong and to Him do we return. We send condolences to the Islamic Ummah in general and our people in al-Sham from the muhajireen and ansar in particular of the martyrdom of the brother Safina al-Tunisi, the military trainer, who graduated dozens of contingents in the field of al-Sham since his arrival to al-Sham, with the brother Sayyaf al-Tunisi, following their targeting by the Crusader coalition in the city of Idlib this afternoon.'
Another eulogy by 'Jalad al-Murji'a' (and shared on Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi's Telegram channel) reads:
'To God we belong and to Him we return.
The news of the martyrdom of the two of the muhajireen mujahideen brothers has reached us: and they are the military trainer Sayyaf al-Tunisi and the brother Safina al-Tunisi, and that is following their targeting with treacherous missiles from an aircraft belonging to the criminal Crusader coalition inside the city of Idlib today.
Oh God accept our brothers among the martyrs and raise their grades in the highest Paradise. Oh God take revenge on the Crusader coalition and its helpers and spies and show us among them the wonders of Your power, for they are powerless before You.'
There appears to be a confusion of names in the sources as to which one of the two was the military trainer. Regardless, the photo of one of them posted by 'Radd Adwan al-Bughat' makes clear that one of them is actually 'Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi,' who in June 2015 was involved in the massacre of dozens of villagers of the originally Druze village of Qalb Lawze [/Qalb Lawza] in the Jabal al-Summaq area of north Idlib countryside. At the time, Tunisi was the Jabhat al-Nusra official of the Jabal al-Summaq area, and it was under his tenure that the second forced conversion of the original inhabitants to Sunni Islam took place.
How can we be sure of the identification? The easiest way is to compare the photo given by 'Radd Adwan al-Bughat' with an old photo of him that I published on a post documenting news of the Jabal al-Summaq area. The beard pattern, face appearance and headwear make the identity clear.
My friend 'Odoacer'- who resides in Qalb Lawze and with whom I frequently like to joke about a variety of my intellectual pursuits including ancient Germanic languages (see my dedication of my small study on Mark of Toledo's Latin translation of the Qur'an to him)- provided me some more information about 'Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi' as he had met him. First off, he correctly pointed out to me that 'Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi' appears in an old BBC Arabic documentary from Tunisia about Salafi activity in the aftermath of the revolution. Screenshot below for comparison:
'Odoacer' says that Tunisi was with the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) originally. This would mean that he came to Syria in 2013. But he says that Tunisi then defected to Jabhat al-Nusra amid the expulsion/withdrawal of ISIS from Idlib in early 2014. He says that Tunisi became Jabhat al-Nusra's official for the Jabal al-Summaq area eight months before the Qalb Lawze massacre (i.e. around October 2014), and he confirms that the reason Tunisi imposed the second declaration of Islam on the original inhabitants of Jabal al-Summaq is that he considered the first statement of conversion to Islam that had been issued in late 2013 (under pressure from ISIS) as insufficient. He believed that the inhabitants needed to prove their Sunni Islam through deeds, and not mere words, hence the second statement with its stipulations such as the need to destroy the shrines.
'Odoacer' remembers Tunisi as a person of big build, possessing a 'powerful' personality and 'very extreme' in his orientation. Among his memories of Tunisi prior to the massacre was that he wanted at one point to enlist all the children of the area between the ages of nine and fourteen for a military camp course lasting three months: no doubt to rear a new generation of jihadists. It seems he always distrusted the original inhabitants of Jabal al-Summaq. He confiscated homes, demanded the names of all those in the areas of the Syrian government, and demanded changing of clothes to styles in accordance with his view of appropriate Islamic dress code.
In terms of the actual massacre, 'Odoacer' distinguishes between Tunisi as the one who actually carried out the massacre but a certain 'al-Sheikh Hamoud' as the one who 'gave the orders.' This 'al-Sheikh Hamoud' is originally from the locality of al-Sahara in west Aleppo countryside, and was amir of the greater border sector to which the Jabal al-Summaq area is affiliated. According to 'Odoacer,' the reason 'al-Sheikh Hamoud' gave the order is that the quarrel that occurred in the village between two people and a member of Jabhat al-Nusra (who was involved in confiscation of property) led to an exchange of fire which killed the Jabhat al-Nusra member: that member was one 'Abu Bilal' who was a relative of 'al-Sheikh Hamoud.' So Tunisi carried out the massacre in revenge for him per the orders of 'al-Sheikh Hamoud.'
'Odoacer' adds that after the massacre, a judicial investigation was launched by Jabhat al-Nusra. That investigation was headed by Abd al-Rahim Atoun. The decision was made to pay blood money of 6,000,000 Syrian pounds for every person killed, but the families of the martyrs of Qalb Lawze rejected that. Atoun requested a video from the families saying that they accepted the blood money. Likewise they rejected that. As for Tunisi, he was imprisoned for two months only and then was released and was apparently removed from Jabhat al-Nusra. It is then said that he joined Jund al-Aqsa, and then news about him disappeared, until now.
Whatever reservations the wider world might have about these assassinations, I am sure that many of the families of the martyrs of Qalb Lawze finally feel that justice was done with the killing of Tunisi, who can only be described as a mass murderer. My friend 'Odoacer' is certainly happy about it, and says 'all the people of Jabal al-Summaq' feel the same, but 'out of fear of the jihadists who mourned him, no one can show his [/her] joy.' As 'Odoacer' put it: 'And give glad tidings to the killer of being killed, even if after a while.'
[Update 17 September 2020]: Despite the lack of clarity in the jihadist sources cited above, it became clear from examination of some earlier records that 'Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi' is the 'Safina al-Tunisi' of the pair of the Tunisian jihadists killed. See for example this account from June 2015 regarding the Qalb Lawze massacre (any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own]:
"Safina' has been living for 7 months in the mountain of the Druze [Jabal al-Summaq] the village of Qalb Lawze and he controls most of the villages of the mountain but his oppression encompasses the nearest and then the nearest and the nearest to him is the village of Qalb Lawze. He has done much and displaced many from their homes, for example:
You have a son away in Lebanon or another place for work, so he comes and empties his house on the pretext that the mujahideen have priority, and there is much from these types of grievances. Many homes have been confiscated as well as many lands. And he has confiscated the freedom of expression and imposed on them many things that are strange in our land!!
Yesterday he came to confiscate a house on the pretext that the mujahideen have priority and he was going to add to it a building 'to be built above it.' So the owner of the confiscated house said: Please could you move away some inches only from me? And build what you want.
Then the argument in words began and from there it moved to drawing weapons in his face by one of the personnel of Safina and he opened fire on him and killed him, so when one of his brothers saw his brother killed, he became agitated against the one bearing the rifle, intending to remove it so a shot came out and killed one of the personnel of Safina, so they opened fire on him as well to join his brother so it became two Druze and one Nusra killed. The brothers from multiple brigades tried to intervene and they went to al-Nusra and they used all lines of contact but it was no use. They did not cease their patrol until the massacre occurred and they affirmed completely that it was a massacre in every meaning of the word, no clash or anything else, and not one of the Druze bore even a 'knife'!!
A force of the factions was sent to hold Safina accountable but they arrived too late for Safina and those with him of the criminal scum had been withdrawn by al-Nusra to their centre on the pretext of putting him on trial and they replaced his group with a group from the people of the nearby locality of Harem.
They did not agree to any court except their Dar al-Qada [the Jabhat al-Nusra court] in Kafr Takharim. A number of families from the village of Qalb Lawze became displaced out of their fear and took refuge with a number of neighbouring factions among them al-Ahrar!!
As for the reason for the mobilising of the convoys towards civilian Druze the answer is:
After Safina killed 23 Druze, he sent messages to his amirs- so it would seem- claiming that the Druze will resist and he portrayed the matter to them on the basis that the Druze are a force and armed, to the point that one of the brothers wanted to go on the path heading to the village so they instilled groundless fear in him and terrified him saying: the Druze will kill you and take away your arms. And this is a false rumour [Safina and his men promoted] so that they could give legitimacy to their oppressive campaign.'
Below is another photo of 'Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi/Safina al-Tunisi':
(Update 12 April 2021): in a very dramatic twist, it turns out that Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi wasn't killed at all in the U.S. drone strike last year. It would appear that he survived an assassination attempt. But today jihadist cleric 'Khayal al-Manhaj' in northwest Syria reports that Abu Abd al-Rahman was killed this afternoon along with Abu Dujana al-Libi in fighting with personnel from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. See below.
'We present to the Islamic Ummah, the news of the martyrdom of the two virtuous sheikhs, the two noble brothers and crowns of the heads and lions of jihad:
The noble sheikh 'Abu Dujana al-Libi' (may God accept him)
Sheikh 'Safina Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi' (may God accept him).
During a battle that arose in the afternoon today between these lions and the renegades of the apostate Hay'a.
The One Exalted in His Loftiness has said: 'And do not reckon those who have been killed in the path of God are dead but rather living with their Lord and sustained, rejoicing in what God has brought them from His grace and conveying glad tidings to those who have not yet joined them from behind them. There is no fear for them and they are not sad. They rejoice in bounty from God and grace and indeed God does not cause the reward of the believers to go to loss' (Al Imran 169-171).
In every day there are convoys for paradise
Martyrs of land, from them knowledgeable ones.
What do I say in describing what they have done?
I have been unable to affirm and the pens have gone dry.
How excellent lions they are from our lions!
On account of the great things of deeds in which they have arisen.
From all who forsake this life as they wage jihad,
And their weapons are faith and boldness.
Oh God accept our brothers, and help us to take revenge for them, and break the power of the apostate renegades. Oh God destroy the renegades of the apostate Hay'a, break their gathering, disperse their group, and make the circle of evil turn upon them.
Indeed You are trustee, and capable of it, and praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.'