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Kuwait-Turkey connection

U.S. officials say that system has relied heavily on the activities of an Iran-based al Qaeda “facilitator” named Muhsin al-Fadhli.

A little-reported press release circulated by the U.S. Treasury Department last October described al-Fadhli as “a veteran al Qaeda operative” who provided “financial and material support” to al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Zarqawi was known for orchestrating a series of gruesome bombings and beheadings in Iraq before U.S. forces killed him in 2006. But the activities of al-Fadhli’s network supposedly have carried forth — and have evolved toward tapping a reserve of Kuwait-based sympathizers to fund extremist groups fighting in Syria.

“In addition to providing funding for al Qaeda activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, this network is working to move fighters and money through Turkey to support al Qaeda-affiliated elements in Syria,” according to the Treasury Department press release. “Al-Fadhli also is leveraging his extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey.”

That extremist elements of Syria’s opposition are gaining strength appears to expose the limitations of the U.S. government to block the flow of such money — or at least to persuade partners in Kuwait and other Persian Gulf nations to do so.

Officials at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request by The Times to comment for this article.

But an article published last month by Foreign Policy shed some light on the situation. In the article, William McCants, a former senior adviser in the State Department’s office of the coordinator for counterterrorism, wrote that “the Gulf monarchies have not been able or willing to stem the tide of private money their citizens are sending to the Salafi charities and popular committees.”

Kuwait in particular has done little to stop it because it lacks an effective terror financing law and because it cannot afford politically to infuriate its already angry Salafi members of parliament,” wrote Mr. McCants. “Qatar and Saudi Arabia have tried to crack down on fundraising for the Salafi militias but their citizens just send their money to Kuwait.”

Political storm in Turkey

The rise of extremists among Syria’s rebels, meanwhile, has set off a political storm in Turkey, where the leadership of the nation’s main opposition party is accusing the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of supporting al Qaeda-linked groups in the nearby war zone.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads the Republican People’s Party — or CHP, as it is known in Turkey — declared in a speech last month that al Qaeda “is now under the protective wings of Erdogan.”

Analysts say such claims are based mainly on politics, but also partly on the ease with which jihadist foreign fighters seeking to join Syria’s opposition rebels have been able to cross the long border between Turkey and its southern neighbor over the past two years.

The situation prompted concern among some national security and intelligence circles in Washington last month when a German news report was posted online that purported to show foreign fighters from around the world, bound for Syria, flowing through a jihadist safe house along the Turkish side of the border.

The report showed footage of a gray-bearded man who, according to the report, had arrived from California to join the jihad in Syria.

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