Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates are trying to exploit the populist uprising in Tunisia to further their end goal of Islamist revolution in the North African state, and in all Arab-Muslim countries.
While Tunisia''s political transformation is still in a very early phase, the encouraging news is that the jihadis have had no tangible success so far.
For the time being, there appears to be no significant convergence between al-Qaeda''s vision of a Taliban-like fundamentalist pan-Islamic state, which it describes as the future caliphate, and the goal of most of Tunisia''s protesters, who are demanding the basic right to have a say in their country''s affairs, and the ability to pay for staple foods.
At the same time, al-Qaeda''s official North African offshoot, called Al-Qaeda In the Maghreb (AQIM), is eagerly watching the Jasmine revolution with a view to harnessing its momentum to try and shake the pillars of the Arab regimes it would dearly like to topple and replace.
Last week, Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the head of AQIM, which has the official backing of the centralized al-Qaeda leadership, called for protesters in Tunisia and neighboring Algeria to implement an Islamist revolution and set up jihadi emirates in place of the current regimes, ahead of the establishment of a caliphate state.
Few appear to be listening at this stage.
Wadud, who could be hiding out in next-door Mauritania, in the Mali border area, enjoys control over a network of secret al-Qaeda bases in the border zone, as well as in Algeria.
According to the SITE monitoring group, Wadud released a 13-minute internet video clip last week, in which he offered protesters military training, and his "support and comfort" to the people. He also threatened attacks against the governments of Tunisia and Algeria, describing their state security forces as "torturers," and their governments as "their masters."
Mauritanian security forces have clashed with AQIM cells in 2010, in an effort to drive them out of the country.
Wadud and his organization are seen as a major security threat by France, which is disturbed by al-Qaeda''s presence so near to its southern Mediterranean coast.
In July, AQIM beheaded a 78-year-old French aid worker in Mauritania. AQIM is believed to be holding five French nationals kidnapped in Niger, while an additional two French citizens held by AQIM were killed in a rescue operation launched by the armies of France and Niger.My recently published book, Virtual Caliphate, explores al-Qaeda''s virtual presence, and proposes that jihadis have set up an online state to make up for their lack of sovereignty.