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Al-Qaeda's Affiliate In Syria Tries Crowdfunding

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

The militant known as Abu Rofik (or Rafik) Abdul Mukaddim Tatarstani has made two fund-raising appeals this week via his Nusra propaganda page on the Russian social-networking site VKontakte.

The militant known as Abu Rofik (or Rafik) Abdul Mukaddim Tatarstani has made two fund-raising appeals this week via his Nusra propaganda page on the Russian social-networking site VKontakte.

A militant who fights alongside Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, has called for donations to help the group purchase equipment, offering a glimpse into the group's architecture and its fund-raising.

The militant, who goes under the nom de guerre Abu Rofik (or Rafik) Abdul Mukaddim Tatarstani, made two fund-raising appeals this week via his Nusra propaganda page on the Russian social-networking site VKontakte.

In the first post, on September 20, Abu Rofik appealed to "sincere brothers and sisters who always support us" to contact him if they wanted to donate.

The funds were needed to "buy equipment and help brothers [militants] who are in need," Abu Rofik said.

"Do not be stingy and be zealous in the way of Allah," the appeal added.

The second appeal, made on September 24, said funds were needed to "help several brothers who are in need and buy several items of equipment for that purpose."

Abu Rofik called on would-be supporters to contact him privately for details of how to donate.

Why Is Nusra Asking For Money?

Abu Rofik's fund-raising appeals shed some light on how at least some of the activities of the foreign-fighter faction to which he belongs are financed.

They also offer some insights into the structure of Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front).

Abu Rofik fights alongside a group named Katiba Sayfullah, an Uzbek-led foreign fighter battalion within the Al-Nusra Front.

Katiba Sayfulla started out as a predominantly North Caucasian independent battalion named Jaish Khilafatul Islamiya. Its original leader, Sayfullakh al-Shishani (Ruslan Machalikashvili), pledged allegiance to Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani in December 2013, a couple of months before he was killed. Currently, the group consists of a number of Russian-speaking militants including some from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as fighters from other parts of the world.

Katiba Sayfullah is based in Haritan, a town to the north of Aleppo city.

Abu Rofik operates as a trainer for the group and has posted various photographs of himself conducting training sessions, often in rifle or sniper shooting:

He has made numerous similar fund-raising appeals via VKontakte in the past in which he has asked supporters to give money to buy various items of military equipment for his training sessions and for the militants in his group.

His activities suggest that Nusra militants must find at least some of their own funds to equip themselves.

Previously, Abu Rofik has asked for donations via the Qiwi Koshelek payment system, a service that Russian-speaking militants in the Islamic State group have also used.

Who Is Abu Rofik?

Abu Rofik is a Russian-speaking militant who has claimed to be from the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia. However, in an interview with the intermittently operational Turkish Nusra semiofficial propaganda website Ummet Islam in May 2014, he was described as an Uzbek.

Although he is prolific on social media and frequently posts photographs of himself, Abu Rofik has shied away from revealing his identity and always appears with the lower half of his face covered with a mask.

The 2014 Ummet Islam interview said Abu Rofik was in his 20s and had worked as a "computer expert" in Russia before coming to Syria.

Abu Rofik has said that while he is working for Nusra, he has not formally pledged allegiance to the group's leader.

In an old and now deleted account on VKontakte in which he went under the pseudonym Muslim Abdullaev, Abu Rofik bragged that he had served as a sniper with Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Russia's largest foreign-intelligence agency -- a claim that is highly unlikely to be true.

Abu Rofik has been in Syria for two years, according to his social-media posts.

In a post on his VKontakte page on September 8, he shared a photograph of a small child that he claimed was his son.

"How he has grown in two years. What a shame that I won't see him again. We will meet in paradise, inshallah (God willing)," Abu Rofik wrote.

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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