Private donations give edge to Islamists in Syria, officials say
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — The stream of U.S. weapons heading to moderate rebel groups in Syria is being offset by a fresh torrent of cash for Islamist extremists, much of it from small networks of Arab donors who see the Syrian conflict as a step toward a broader Islamist uprising across the region, U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say.
The private donors, who use Twitter and other social media to collect millions of dollars from sympathetic Muslims, are providing crucial backing for Islamist militias that appear to be gaining ground in northern and eastern Syria, even as fighting stalls elsewhere, the officials said.
Dollars raised over the Internet are wired between private banking accounts and hand-delivered by courier, often in border towns like this city of 1.4 million, about 20 miles from the Syrian frontier, according to Middle Eastern intelligence officials who monitor the activity. Some fundraising pitches ask for specific pledges to cover the cost of a weapon, for example, or to finance an operation. For $2,400, a donor can pay for the travel, training and arming of a single non-Syrian fighter.