The New York Times reports: The money flows in via bank transfer or is delivered in bags or pockets bulging with cash. Working from his sparely furnished sitting room here, Ghanim al-Mteiri gathers the funds and transports them to Syria for the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Mteiri — one of dozens of Kuwaitis who openly raise money to arm the opposition — has helped turn this tiny, oil-rich Persian Gulf state into a virtual Western Union outlet for Syria’s rebels, with the bulk of the funds he collects going to a Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda.
One Kuwait-based effort raised money to equip 12,000 rebel fighters for $2,500 each. Another campaign, run by a Saudi sheikh based in Syria and close to Al Qaeda, is called “Wage Jihad With Your Money.” Donors earn “silver status” by giving $175 for 50 sniper bullets, or “gold status” by giving twice as much for eight mortar rounds.
“Once upon a time we cooperated with the Americans in Iraq,” said Mr. Mteiri, a former soldier in the Kuwaiti Army, recalling the American role in pushing Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991. “Now we want to get Bashar out of Syria, so why not cooperate with Al Qaeda?”
Outside support for the warring parties in Syria has helped sustain the conflict and transformed it into a proxy battle by regional powers, with Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah helping the government and with Saudi Arabia and Qatar providing the main support for the rebels.
But the flow of private funds to rebel groups has added a wild-card factor to the war, analysts say, exacerbating divisions in the opposition and bolstering its most extreme elements. While the West has been hesitant to arm and finance the more secular forces that initially led the turn to armed rebellion, fighters have flocked to Islamist militias and in some cases rebranded themselves as jihadist because that is where the money is. [Continue reading…]