Al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate raised tens of millions of dollars throughout 2016, which could bedevil the U.S and its allies who are largely focused on the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS).
The group’s financial strength stems from “kidnapping for ransom, a pipeline of foreign donors, and collecting money and other resources from areas it conquers in battle,” a June report from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) declares. The group’s funding streams have proven resilient throughout the its nearly five year existence on the complex Syrian battlefield.
Al-Qaida’s affiliate is currently known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The group has changed its name several times and falsely declared to cut ties with the global al-Qaida network in order to court less extreme opposition groups on the ground in Syria. The FDD report explains that HTS’s “financial strength hinges on keeping its image as both a needed armed force rooted in the local Syrian opposition movement and an Islamist, yet more civilian-friendly, alternative to the Islamic State.”
ISIS conversely remains a heavy target of U.S. coalition airstrikes and continues to remain on the backfoot inside Syria. President Donald Trump’s administration recently delivered heavy weapons to Syrian Kurdish fighters, tasked with using them to take ISIS’s capital of Raqqa. International attention continues to be focused on the defeat of the terrorist group with little concern for al-Qaida’s seemingly creeping threat on the ground in the country.