Growing beards for weapons
Rebel groups in Syria are playing up their Islamist credentials, including growing Salafi beards, as a ruse to secure arms from conservative Gulf-based donors, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.It said the increasing presence of jihadi fighters was irrefutable but added that groups with very different motives were being confusingly bracketed together. It said:
In some cases, adoption of Salafi nomenclature, rhetoric and symbols reflects a sincere commitment to religious ideals; in others, it expresses an essentially pragmatic attempt to curry favour with wealthy, conservative Gulf-based donorsThe report said “not all Salafis are alike; the concept covers a gamut ranging from mainstream to extreme”.
The money flow from conservative donors did more than strengthen Salafi factions relative to their mainstream counterparts. It also pushed non-Salafi combatants toward joining Salafi units capable of providing them with the requisite weapons and ammunition. Groups with no ideological affiliation whatsoever began to adopt the symbols, rhetoric and facial hair associated with Salafism for that purpose.It cited the example of Abdul Razzaq Tlass, a popular mid-level leader of Katibat al-Farouq in Homs who grew a Salafi beard to please Gulf financiers of his brigade.
It added that last June a small group of militants released a YouTube video officially naming their unit after a Kuwaiti cleric who had provided support.
The rebel faction, based outside Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border, called themselves Katibat al-Sheikh Hajaj al-Ajami – a Salafi Kuwaiti cleric who was prominent in raising money for the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front.