There’s no disputing the fact that jihadi groups in Syria—propped up by weapons and petrodollars from wealthy Persian Gulf monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar—are the dominant rebel force on the battlefield, and have been for some time. But with the civil war now two-and-a-half years old, a new element has emerged in the bloody, multidimensional conflict: self-sustaining jihadi fiefdoms.
A young man known as the “emir of gas” spoke with The Guardian in July from the Ash Shaddadi natural gas refinery in the country’s eastern Hasaka province. The rebel commander now controls the refinery’s output after militants affiliated with Al Qaeda from Jabhat al-Nusra pushed out Syrian army troops.
His designs for the surrounding area are pretty clear, as the paper reported: ”Go and ask the people in the streets whether there is a liberated town or city anywhere in Syria that is ruled as efficiently as this one,” he boasted. “There is electricity, water and bread and security. Inshallah, this will be the nucleus of a new Syrian Islamic caliphate!”
Following up on this, reporters for McClatchy newspapers recently traveled to the refinery and found that things haven’t changed much in the past few months. They wrote: “Today, Nusra runs the town. It controls the grain silos, the cotton warehouses, and most important the region’s gas and oil output. Yet the biggest windfall from victory may have been the proceeds from the sale of some 400 major construction vehicles, which they captured when they overran state facilities in January. The sale of the equipment netted 4 billion Syrian pounds, almost $40 million at the time, according to local Free Syrian Army commanders.”
However, as with just about everything in Syria today, things are a bit murky. Residents of regime-held areas of Damascus have reported seeing fuel from rebel-held areas being sold on the black market, at a discount, apparently because of the poor quality of jihadi refining techniques.
More from McClatchy: “That approach is different from what’s taking place in Deir el Zour, about 80 miles to the south, where the Free Syrian Army accepted an arrangement under which gas is shipped to the Syrian government, which distributes it throughout the country. The government, in turn, pays the salaries of the employees who keep the plant going.”
So, what does a self-sufficient jihadi paradise in the heart of the Middle East look like? Here are some pictures to give you an idea.
All photos by Andree Kaiser/MCT.