Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rebel Financiers Flock to Northern Syria

 al-Hajri (left) and al-Ajmi (right) in
Northern Syria
Sheikhs in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and across the Gulf are financing Syrian rebel groups. Those leading the fundraising efforts are making regular trips to northern Syria, taking advantage of the opportunity for photo ops with weaponry and prominent rebel beneficiaries for use as fundraising tools.

One of the most prolific sheikhs involved in the financing effort, Hajaj al-Ajmi, along with his fundraising partner Irshid al-Hajri, traveled to northern Syria in late-Spring 2013. Their itinerary included a stop at Maarat al-Numan, located approximately 60km from rebel controlled border crossings with Turkey. Al-Ajmi delivered a sermon at a Maarat al-Numan mosque and the delegation visited the nearby Wadi Deif battlefield (and took pictures).

al-Ajmi delivering a sermon at a
mosque in Maarat al-Numan
Other Gulf sheikhs are making similar trips as well. Muhamed al-Mafrah from the Saudi opposition party, Hezb al-Umma al-Islamiya, visited members of the Umma Brigade earlier this year, also at Wadi Deif. Meanwhile Muhamed al-Owaihan, a young Kuwaiti financier accompanied Ahrar al-Sham on their May 2013 capture of the Shabiba military base located in Idlib Province on the Aleppo-Latakia highway.

These trips appear to be effective fundraising tools. In addition to providing the sheikhs with opportunities to transfer cash directly to rebel beneficiaries, the sheikhs often take and disseminate attention-grabbing photos from the battlefield that can help with fundraising efforts. Inspiring statements from inside Syria, posted on YouTube and promoted on Twitter, are another common product of these trips. One fundraising video by Hajaj al-Ajmi recorded in Syria received over 60,000 views on YouTube. Trips to northern Syria are used by Gulf sheikhs to establish their bonafides with battlefield appearances and attract increased attention from donors back home.

Mafrah looking the part in front of an
 Umma Brigade flag
Mafrah posing with Hitham Abu al-Farouq,
leader of the Umma Brigade