WASHINGTON — A group of hard-line Islamists in Kuwait raised enough cash to arm 12,000 Syrian rebels this week, according to statements by the group’s leaders. The next step: flood the country with guided missiles, heat-seeking missiles and tandem warheads.
The United States is currently considering ways to provide small arms to moderate elements of the Syrian opposition. Washington officials swear they can keep those weapons from falling into extremists’ hands. Perhaps that’s so. But those CIA-led efforts may be eclipsed by a parallel push to give more powerful weapons — capable of taking down commercial aircraft — to the opposition. And these arms runners are far less concerned about the weapons winding up with the rebels’ al-Qaida-aligned Islamist wing.
This week, the Great Kuwait Campaign, a private organization of Kuwaiti clerics and politicians, announced a new phase of its fundraising campaign after successfully raising several millions of dollars from auctioning off cars, rounding up gold jewelry and soliciting donations.
The fundraising announcement came from the campaign’s official Twitter account this week. The specifics about weaponry came from one of the campaign’s organizers, Shafi Al-Ajmi, a hardline Salafi cleric who said the group already purchased anti-aircraft missiles, grenades and RPGs, and was planning to acquire heat-seeking and guided missiles.
In a similar statement this week, Waleed Al-Tabtabai, a former Kuwaiti MP and campaign organizer said that rebels urgently need heat-seeking and anti-aircraft missiles as well as anti-tank and armor-piercing weapons. (The two clerics’ translated statements were flagged by the Middle East Media Research Institute, in a note to FP.)
Like many of the Syrian rebels, the campaign’s members are conservative Sunni Muslims who support the overthrow of President Bashar Assad, an Alawite. In the past week, the clerics have auctioned off GMC and Mercedes sedans and characterized successes in religious and sectarian terms*.
The Kuwaiti government, which officially supports the overthrow of Assad, told Reuters on Wednesday that unofficial fundraising requires a special permit to ensure the money “is going to the right side or to the right party.” But some analysts doubt if Kuwait shares America’s concern about sophisticated weapons getting in the hands of extremists.
“Who are these weapons going to? We don’t know,” Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, tells FP. “Most of the heavy-hitting Islamists, who are the best-trained and most capable, have nothing to offer America and are intensely anti-Western.”
Falah al-Sawagh, a campaign member and former opposition member of Kuwait’s parliament, did little to allay these concerns an interview this week. “Our only rule is to collect money and to deliver this money to our brothers who are helping the Syrian people,” he told Reuters. “The world has abandoned the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution so it is normal that people start to give money to people who are fighting.”