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Jihadis bankroll aid efforts in Syria to win followers

Among those with money to throw around in the scrum for influence are groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, which the State Department says has ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

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Earlier this month, people gather by the window of a makeshift post where Free Syrian Army fighters sell bread, in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria. The town is broke, relying on a slowing trickle of local donations. The rebels, a motley crew of laborers, mechanics and shopowners, have little experience in government.

Muhammed Muheisen/AP

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To keep his small charity afloat in Aleppo where the cost of supplies have doubled and tripled in recent months, Abu Ahmad must cobble together funding from a range of donors that includes everyone from wealthy Syrian expatriates to charities in Europe.

He was cautiously receptive when fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra approached him offering to help with his relief efforts. One of the many groups fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, Jabhat al-Nusra is a hardline Islamist organization that was officially classified as a terrorist organization by the US State Department on Wednesday and that is looked upon by many Syrians with trepidation.

“Before I met them, I thought they were tough and not easy to work with, but after working with them I found that the opposite of that is true,” Mr. Ahmad says, explaining that the group was better organized than some professional charities he’s worked with. “I don’t believe Jabhat al-Nusra will be bad. I think both the domestic and international media has deformed their image.”

Throughout Aleppo, rebel progress now has many residents no longer talking about if President Bashar al-Assad will fall but when. The confidence that a new future is within reach has many groups that will want a stake in post-Assad Syria vying for influence, and humanitarian aid has become one of their favored tools for reaching their soon-to-be constituents. Among those with money are jihadi groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, which the State Department says has ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

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