Syrian rebels have a new source of weapons and cash from inside Kuwait, and their benefactors in the oil-rich state are sending the aid to the most militant and anti-West factions involved in the fight to topple Bashar al-Assad.
The role of Saudi and Qatari governments and individuals in the funding and arming of Islamist fighters in Syria has been well known since the civil war began more than two years ago. But now, guns and money are flowing from private sources and Salafist-controlled NGOs based in Kuwait, and they are going to rebel factions aligned with Al Qaeda.
“We are collecting money to buy all these weapons, so that our brothers will be victorious,” hard-core Sunni Islamist Sheikh Shafi’ Al-Ajami announced on Kuwaiti television last month, listing the black-market prices of weapons, including heat-seeking missiles, anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Days later, Al-Ajami addressed a small throng outside the Lebanese Embassy in Kuwait and gleefully described slitting the throat of a Shiite Muslim in Syria.
“We slaughtered him with knives,” Al-Ajami said to shouts of “God is Great.” “We are collecting money to buy all these weapons, so that our brothers will be victorious.” – Sheikh Shafi’ Al-Ajami, Kuwaiti parliament member
U.S. and Western officials want aid flowing into Syria to be targeted to less extreme rebel groups. One concern is that hundreds of European fighters who have joined the most militant groups, which have links to Al Qaeda and other jihadist factions, will one day return home from Syria and carry out terrorist acts against the West.
Among the groups receiving money from Kuwait is the Syrian Islamic Front, an alliance of eight jihadist groups, which while ready to conduct joint operations with Western-backed rebels, has refused to join the Free Syrian Army. SIF leader Hassan Aboud Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi has admitted publicly the alliance has received funding from the al-Ajami network of donors.