A Syrian Sunni sheik who raised at least $3.6 million during a U.S. fundraising tour last April has blessed a new coalition of Syrian jihadist groups aiming to replace the Assad regime with an Islamic state.
Sheik Osama al-Rifai, who raised the money for the Franklin, Mich.-based Syrian Sunrise Foundation, endorsed the creation of the Islamic Front in a Nov. 22 YouTube video. The front represents a merger of seven jihadist groups fighting Bashar al-Assad's forces. Many of them have ties to al-Qaida.
"The unification of these great Islamist and jihadist groups is not a normal piece of news, but is a great event that brings the happiness and thrill to every Muslim, not only in Syria but in the whole Islamic world," al-Rifai said in remarks translated by the Investigative Project on Terrorism. "I congratulate this brilliant news; I congratulate the brothers who formed it. I cannot say that we bless this group because it is they who should be blessed by them."