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Islamists n Kuwait raise money to arm Syrian rebels

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

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 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 those 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 on Twitter that they had raised several million dollars from auctioning off cars, rounding up gold jewelry and soliciting donations.

One of the campaign's organizers, Shafi Al-Ajmi, a hardline Salafi cleric, said the group had purchased anti-aircraft missiles, grenades and RPGs, and was planning to acquire heat-seeking and guided missiles.

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 into the hands of extremists.

“Who are these weapons going to? We don't know,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “Most of the heavy-hitting Islamists, who are the best-trained and most capable, have nothing to offer America and are intensely anti-Western.”

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