December 9, 2013 | Quote
Syria’s Jihadists Linked to Organized Crime
Syria’s insurgent militias are becoming ever more enmeshed with organized crime, blurring the line between insurgents and racketeers and undermining the rebels’ efforts to maintain sagging popular support for the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
And it isn’t only militias affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army or Islamist militias profiting from the chaos and lawlessness to plunder and smuggle, extort and kidnap—the villainy is also being perpetrated by al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists, who present themselves as paragons of strict Islamic virtue and argue the spate of executions they have presided over are done to enforce morality.
Both of the al Qaeda affiliate operating in Syria—Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, or ISIS—have folded within their ranks groups widely seen as crime syndicates and insurgent leaders who at heart are racketeers, say European intelligence sources. They point to four battalions that have shifted allegiance in recent months from the FSA-aligned Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade to al-Nusra and this week realigned once again, this time siding with ISIS.
“The nexus between jihadists and organized crime is not a new one,” says Jonathan Schanzer, a Mideast expert with the Washington DC-based think tank, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “we’ve seen this among other al Qaeda groups like Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. On the Shia Muslim side of the street, Hezbollah is known to be entrenched in the criminal underworld. Welcome to the world of pious crime in the name of religion.”