Sunday, September 22, 2013

‘Bags of money'

"... What is more worrisome, officials say, is a new tendency among fundraisers to seek influence over the Syrian paramilitary groups they support. Some have adopted their own rebel militias and sought to dictate everything from ideology to tactics. Officials at one gulf-based organization, which calls itself the Ummah Conference, have helped promote a campaign to recruit thousands of Muslim volunteers for Syria while openly calling for a broader struggle against secular Arab governments and what one of its leaders terms “American terrorism.”
“These are people who believe in the ideology and have more than enough money to help the groups in Syria that share their views,” said a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official whose government closely monitors Syrian rebel factions and their foreign supporters. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to grant interviews on the matter.
“Such groups think it is more halal — permissible — to support the jihadists than to give tax dollars to their own governments,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is a problem that you can never control. At least, not completely.”
In the border city of Gaziantep, ... in recent months, there has been a separate stream of foreigners headed toward the fight. Ahmad, a Syrian exile and interpreter who works in the nearby Kilis refugee camp, said he regularly sees Arab businessmen, distinctive in their white dishdashas, speeding toward the border in rented luxury cars with hired drivers..., ..., ...,
“Social media enables fundraisers to solicit donations from supporters in countries — notably Saudi Arabia — which have otherwise banned unauthorized fundraising campaigns for Syria,” said the senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments. He said some groups hold regular cash-collecting events at private homes and mosques, while others specialize in wire transfers that use informal Arab banking houses known as hawala.
Western officials closely followed the skyrocketing prominence of formerly unknown Kuwaiti clerics such as Sheik Hajjaj al-Ajmi, whose Twitter appeals for money for the rebels this year became so effective that a Syrian brigade adopted Ajmi’s name.
But more recently, some of the fundraising networks have sought to reshape the conflict in deeper ways, creating their own militia movements while spreading money broadly to expand their influence among dozens of Islamist rebel groups, said William McCants, a former State Department adviser .
“They are like militia-group venture capitalists,” said McCants, director of the Brookings Institution’s Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World. “They are trying to pick winners, seeing which groups are growing and performing well. And they have a lot of money and no real restrictions.”
The Ummah Conference’s headlong dive into the Syrian conflict started with fundraising but quickly extended to the battlefield.
For this 12-year-old Islamist organization, which was founded in Kuwait and boasts chapters in a dozen countries, the Syrian conflict has served as a recruiting tool, idea laboratory and training academy, say U.S. and Middle Eastern analysts who have studied it. The group’s leaders have formed ties with a Syrian group of the same name — the Liwaa al-Ummah, or Ummah Brigade — while showering money on Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham. Ummah Brigade fighters coordinate tactics with more radical groups such as the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The group’s ties to the conflict deepened in March when one of its leaders — Mohammad al-Abduli, a former United Arab Emirates army colonel and president of the conference’s UAE branch — was killed by a sniper while fighting in Syria. The organization has since established a military training camp in Syria named in his honor.
A video posted in May depicted two of the Ummah Conference’s regional officials — Saudi branch leader Mohammad Saad ­al-Mufrih and the new UAE leader, Hassan al-Diqqi — surrounding by gun-toting graduates of the newly opened Abduli Training Camp. Mufrih, the Saudi, appealed in the video for Muslims to aid the Syrian rebels “by any possible instrument, with money and with men.”...
Moreover, Diqqi, leader of the UAE chapter and a veteran of the Syrian conflict, has suggested that Islam’s true enemies lie outside the Middle East. He denounced the United States in a 2002 book as one of the two “most dangerous countries” in the world, the other being Russia....
To current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials, such pronouncements have a distressingly familiar ring, inviting comparisons to the 1970s and 1980s, when radical Islamists throughout the Middle East rallied to the cause of Afghan Muslims waging jihad against the Soviet Union.
“Some of these groups have always held radical views, but before the Arab Spring, they had no active jihad, but only aspirations,” said one former U.S. intelligence analyst who worked extensively in the region. “Now they have a jihad. Now they are veterans.”

No comments: