At the beginning of the month, the Syrian Support Group (SSG), a a Washington-based nonprofit organization which is seeking charitable status, was granted a license by the US Treasury to begin fund-raising on behalf of the Syrian rebels. The group’s website makes it plain that any funds they send “may and will” be used to “purchase much-needed arms, ammunition and other military supplies”. The group is at pains to point out that any donations, corporate or personal, will be tax-deductible – surely only in America would arms money be considered charitable giving – and has this to say about the chances those arms will be in the hands of Islamist extremists:
[SSG] will only provide financial support to military councils who have adopted the Free Syrian Army’s Proclamation of Principles (the ”œProclamation”). The Proclamation outlines the FSA’s commitment to a democratic Syria for all Syrians regardless of sect or ethnicity, the Rule of Law, and its rejection of extremism, terrorism and revenge killings.
The “Proclamation” (PDF) is an unlikely document which professes that the Free Syrian Army is entirely secular and committed to freedom for all religions, as well as being opposed to revenge attacks of all kinds – claims which would appear to be heavily undermined by eye-witness reporting on FSA units. In any case, there will be many who will ask why FSA commanders couldn’t just sign on to the Proclamation to get gun money, and ignore it in practise either now or later. The SSG appears to answer that we’ll just have to trust them and the rebels.
The SSG has a Washington D.C. address, but it’s apparently a “virtual office”. The SSG is really run out of executive member Louay Sakkay’s Ontario basement. Even so, it has some consummate insiders on the team. It’s lobbyist and “director of government relations”, Brian Sayers, was until June of this year a Political Officer for NATO based in Kosovo and had previously worked for the Condi Rice era State Dept. The sudden shift from NATO to such a pressure group may raise some eyebrows, but probably not on the Beltway. It’s legal counsel, Mazen Asbahi, is a politically-connected Chicago lawyer who briefly served as the director of Muslim and Arab American outreach for the Obama campaign until he was forced to resign over conservative allegations of ties to groups funding Islamis extremists. Given his presence, if money is found going to Salafists, expect Republicans to complain that of course one of Obama’s associates was involved. They might have a harder time explaining the involvement of Dr. Maher Nana, a family doctor from Palm Beach who incorporated the group in the US. He is a signatory for the SSG on a declaration of shared intent and agreement between various Syrian opposition groups and groups fronting the resistance movement of Cuban exiles in Florida – resistance groups with deep ties to the Florida Republican Party apparatus.
In all, while their ties to political apparatchiks may be entirely innocouos – just the way the game is played in D.C. – there will remain a suspicion that this group, which has risen from nowhere to be a potentially major source of arms funding between the U.S. and the Syrian rebels, and which has called for a “no fly zone”, is simply a deniable proxy for a bipartisan push to draw the U.S. nearer to war with the Syrian regime.
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