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Who is Supporting the Islamic State? The Answers May Surprise You

SUPPORT FOR ISIS FROM INDONESIA

Nadia Syaadah / Youtube

Michael Stephens - published on 09/10/14 - updated on 06/08/17

The terrorist quasi-state has developed a means of self-support, thanks to convenient friends and enemies.

Much has been written about the support Islamic State (IS) has received from donors and sympathisers, particularly in the wealthy Gulf States.

Indeed the accusation I hear most from those fighting IS in Iraq and Syria is that Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are solely responsible for the group’s existence.

But the truth is a little more complex and needs some exploring.

It is true that some wealthy individuals from the Gulf have funded extremist groups in Syria, many taking bags of cash to Turkey and simply handing over millions of dollars at a time.

This was an extremely common practice in 2012 and 2013 but has since diminished and is at most only a tiny percentage of the total income that flows into Islamic State coffers in 2014.

It is also true that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, believing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would soon fall and that Sunni political Islam was a true vehicle for their political goals, funded groups that had strongly Islamist credentials.

Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam were just such groups, all holding tenuous links to the "bad guy" of the time—the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria.

Qatar especially attracted criticism for its cloudy links to the group.

Turkey for its part operated a highly questionable policy of border enforcement in which weapons and money flooded into Syria, with Qatari and Saudi backing.

All had thought that this would facilitate the end of Mr. Assad’s regime and the reordering of Syria into a Sunni power, breaking Shia Iran’s link to the Mediterranean.

Islamic State’s goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate is certainly attractive in some corners of Islamic thinking.

Yet as IS began its seemingly unstoppable rise in 2013, these groups were either swept away by it, or deciding it was better to join the winning team, simply defected bringing their weapons and money with them.

Only al-Nusra has really held firm, managing a tenuous alliance with its more radical cousin, but even so it is estimated that at least 3,000 fighters from al-Nusra swapped their allegiance during this time.

So has Qatar funded Islamic State? Directly, the answer is no. Indirectly, a combination of shoddy policy and naivety has led to Qatar-funded weapons and money making their way into the hands of IS.

Saudi Arabia likewise is innocent of a direct state policy to fund the group, but as with Qatar its determination to remove Mr. Assad has led to serious mistakes in its choice of allies.

Both countries must undertake some soul searching at this point, although it is doubtful that any such introspection will be admitted in public.

But there are deeper issues here; religious ties and sympathy for a group that both acts explicitly against Shia Iran’s interests in the region and has the tacit support of more people in the Gulf than many would care to admit.

The horrific acts committed by IS are difficult for anybody to support, but its goal of establishing a caliphate is certainly attractive in some corners of Islamic thought.

Many of those who supported the goal have already found their way to Syria and have fought and died for Islamic State and other groups. Others express support more passively and will continue to do so for many years.

The pull of IS, a group that has outperformed all others in combat and put into place a slick media campaign in dozens of languages to attract young men and women to its cause, has proven highly successful.

In every activity—from fighting, to organization and hierarchy, to media messagingIS is light years ahead of the assorted motley crew of opposition factions operating in the region.

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Tags:
IraqIslamist MilitantsSyriaTerrorism
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