Sunday, November 17, 2013

Saudi Preacher Relocates to Syria

While most of the high-profile Gulf-based financiers sending money to Syrian rebel groups emerged in late 2011-mid 2012, there are late entrants still getting in the game. One of these sheikhs, referenced in a recent article by Ben Hubbard detailing Kuwait's role as a conduit of funds from across the Gulf, is a Saudi citizen named Abdullah bin Muhamed al-Mohisni.

Mohisni preaching in Syria
Although the Saudi government shutdown private charities openly fundraising for Syrian rebel groups in 2012, Mohisni's Jihad bi-Malik campaign is able to operate for two reasons. One, Mohisni directs potential donors to phone numbers based in Kuwait and Qatar where they receive instructions for sending funds. Two, unlike most financiers who remain in the Gulf while making regular trips to northern Syria, Mohisni relocated to Syria around fall 2013. This action has raised Mohisni's profile. Prominent preachers including Suleiman al-Alwan have publicly praised Mohisni for giving up his wealth and position preaching at his father's mosque in Mecca to support the fighting in Syria.

Mohisni, whose uncle died in Deir Ezzor in April 2013 fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra, is very open about financing al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliates. While other Gulf sheikhs are also financing Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS), they generally avoid distributing photos of themselves meeting with high profile leaders from these groups (although other people have distributed these images). Mohisni does not appear to have any inhibitions about posting photos of himself meeting with ISIS leaders.
Mohisni meeting with ISIS
commander Omar a-Shishani

Like many other rebel financiers, Mohisni is also involved in more legitimate charity work. Mohisni actively supports the Jamia Rahma, a charity based in Mafraq, Jordan, which provides services to Syrian refugees. A number of celebrity Salafi sheikhs have participated in Jamia Rahma's programs including Mohamed Arifi and Nabil al-Auwadi. In general, the access that Salafi sheikhs now have to Syrian refugees is worrying as charitable work inevitably mixes with preaching. In fact, Mohisni praised Jamia Rahma for focusing its efforts on preaching to refugees.

Kuwait and Qatar's unwillingness to dissolve networks publicly fundraising for Jihadi groups in Syria has undermined Saudi efforts to shutdown financiers in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, prominent Salafi sheikhs are not only influencing the battlefield by providing money and fighters to sometimes foreign-led Jihadi groups, they are also influencing the next generation of Syrians through organized preaching to a vulnerable Syrian population.


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