Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria are reportedly funding their activities by selling oil from fields they took from Bashar al-Assad.
According to the the Telegraph, up to 380,000 barrels of crude “that were previously produced around the city of Raqqa and in the desert region to the east are now in Rebel hands.” As a result, the al-Nursa Front, “a violently anti-Western jihadist group,” is selling the crude for profits to fund their operations. ‘
This oil is crucial to Syria’s future. And strategically speaking, the oil fields now controlled by the Al Qaeda affiliates give Iran an advantage in any post-Assad Syria.
For example, the oil fields controlled by al-Nursa are “in the three provinces closest to Iraq–Hasakeh, Deir al-Zour, and Raqqa.” Moreover, al-Nursa itself was thought to have been formed by Al Qaeda fighters from Iran.
That puts the European Union in a tight spot, because they’ve been pushing to reduce the embargo on oil exports for anti-Assad forces while simultaneously trying to “marginalize the extremist group within the opposition.” Now they are in a position where reducing the embargo could give a helping hand to Al Qaeda.
General Selim Idriss, the Western-backed head of the Syrian opposition, has asked the West to help seize the oil fields back from al-Nursa.
Note: image above is of Syrian rebels in Aleppo, not necessarily Al Qaeda-affiliated.