Euro Arms Pipeline to Middle East

Making a Killing: The 1.2 Billion Euro Arms Pipeline to Middle East

An unprecedented flow of weapons from Central and Eastern Europe is flooding the battlefields of the Middle East.

Lawrence Marzouk, Ivan Angelovski and Miranda Patrucic BIRN Belgrade, London, Sarajevo

BalkanInsight: As Belgrade slept on the night of November 28, 2015, the giant turbofan engines of a Belarusian Ruby Star Ilyushin II-76 cargo plane roared into life, its hull laden with arms destined for faraway conflicts.

Rising from the tarmac of Nikola Tesla airport, the hulking aircraft pierced the Serbian mist to head towards Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

It was one of at least 68 flights that in just 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to Middle Eastern states and Turkey which, in turn, funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, has found. The flights form just a small part of €1.2 billion in arms deals between the countries since 2012, when parts of the Arab Spring turned into an armed conflict.

Belgrade Airport | BIRN

Meanwhile, over the past two years, as thousands of tonnes of weapons fly south, hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled north from the conflicts that have killed more than 400,000 people. But while Balkan and European countries have shut down the refugee route, the billion-euro pipeline sending arms by plane and ship to the Middle East remains open – and very lucrative.

It is a trade that is almost certainly illegal, according to arms and human rights experts.

“The evidence points towards systematic diversion of weapons to armed groups accused of committing serious human rights violations. If this is the case, the transfers are illegal under the ATT (United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty) and other international law and should cease immediately,” said Patrick Wilcken, an arms-control researcher at Amnesty International who reviewed the evidence collected by reporters.

But with hundreds of millions of euros at stake and weapons factories working overtime, countries have a strong incentive to let the business flourish. Arms export licences, which are supposed to guarantee the final destination of the goods, have been granted despite ample evidence that weapons are being diverted to Syrian and other armed groups accused of widespread human rights abuses and atrocities.

Robert Stephen Ford, US ambassador to Syria between 2011 and 2014, told BIRN and the OCCRP that the trade is coordinated by the US Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, Turkey and Gulf states through centres in Jordan and Turkey, although in practice weapon supplies often bypass this process.

BIRN and the OCCRP examined arms export data, UN reports, flight records, and weapons contracts during a year-long investigation that reveals how thousands of assault rifles, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons, and heavy machine guns are pouring into the troubled region, originating from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Romania,  Serbia and Slovakia.

Read all the documents used in the investigation at BIRN’s online library BIRN Source.

Since the escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2012, these eight countries have approved the shipment of weapons and ammunition worth at least 1.2 billion euros to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey.

The figure is likely much higher. Data on arms export licences for four out of eight countries were not available for 2015 and seven out of eight countries for 2016. The four recipient countries are key arms suppliers to Syria and Yemen with little or no history of buying from Central and Eastern Europe prior to 2012. And the pace of the transfers is not slowing, with some of the biggest deals approved in 2015.

Eastern and Central European weapons and ammunition, identified in more than 50  videos and photos posted on social media, are now in use by Western-backed Free Syrian Army units, but also in the hands of fighters of Islamist groups such as Ansar al-Sham, Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS, in Syria, factions fighting for Syrian President Bashar-al Assad and Sunni forces in Yemen.

On April 7, 2016, twitter User @bm27_uragan, who monitors the spread of weapons in the Syrian conflict, posted a video apparently of Free Syrian Army rebel using Serbian made Coyote M02 heavy machine gun in Southern Aleppo in Syria. The Coyote M02 has been independently identified as a Coyote M02.

Markings on some of the weapons identifying the origin and date of production reveal significant quantities have come off production lines as recently as 2015.

Out of the 1.2 billion euros in weapons and ammunition approved for export, about 500 million euros have been delivered, according to UN trade information and national arms export reports.

The frequency and number of cargo flights – BIRN and the OCCRP identified at least 68 in just over one year – reveal a steady flow of weapons from Central and Eastern Europe airports to military bases in Middle East.

The most commonly used aircraft – the Ilyushin II-76 – can carry up to 50 tonnes of cargo or approximately 16,000 AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles or three million bullets. Others, including the Boeing 747, are capable of hauling at least twice that amount.

But arms and ammunitions are not only coming by air. Reporters also have identified at least three shipments made by the US military from Black Sea ports carrying an estimated 4,700 tonnes of weapons and ammunition to the Red Sea and Turkey since December 2015.

One Swedish member of the EU parliament calls the trade shameful.

“Maybe they –[Bulgaria, Slovakia and Croatia] – do not feel ashamed at all but I think they should,” said Bodil Valero, who also served as the rapporteur for the EU’s last arms report.“Countries selling arms to Saudi Arabia or the Middle East-North Africa region are not carrying out good risk assessments and, as a result, are in breach of EU and national law.”.

OCCRP and BIRN talked to government representatives in Croatia, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovakia who all responded similarly saying that they are meeting their international obligations. Some cited that Saudi Arabia is not on any international weapons black lists and other said their countries are not responsible if weapons have been diverted.

A question of legality

The global arms trade is regulated by three layers of interconnected legislation — national, European Union, EU, and international – but there are no formal mechanisms to punish those who break the law.

Beyond the blanket ban on exports to embargoed countries, each licence request is dealt with individually.

In the case of Syria, there are currently no sanctions on supplying weapons to the opposition.

As a result, the lawfulness of the export approval hinges on whether countries have carried out due diligence on a range of issues, including the likelihood of the arms being diverted and the impact the export will have on peace and stability.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia are signatories of the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force in December 2014, and lists measures to prevent the illicit trade and diversion of arms.

Member states of the EU are also governed by the legally-binding 2008 Common Position on arms exports, requiring each country to take into account eight criteria when accessing arms exports licence applications, including whether the country respects international human rights, the preservation of “regional peace, security and stability” and the risk of diversion.

As part of their efforts to join the EU, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro have already accepted the measures and have amended their national law. Serbia is in the process of doing so.

Weapons exports are initially assessed based on an end-user certificate, a key document issued by the government of the importing country which guarantees who will use the weapons and that the arms are not intended for re-export.

Authorities in Central and Eastern Europe told BIRN and the OCCRP that they also inserted a clause which requires the buyer to seek approval if they later want to export the goods.

Beyond these initial checks, countries are required to carry out a range of other risk assessments based on national and EU law and the ATT, although conversations with, and statements from, authorities revealed little evidence of that.

OCCRP and BIRN talked to government representatives in Croatia, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovakia who all responded similarly saying that they are meeting their international obligations. Some cited that Saudi Arabia is not on any international weapons black lists and other said their countries are not responsible if weapons have been diverted. The three other countries did not respond to requests for comment.

The Czech Foreign Ministry was the only public body to directly address concerns about human rights abuses and diversions, saying it took into account both when weighing up an export licence and had blocked transfers on that basis.

How legal are these arms sales to the Middle East? Find out more here

Saudi Arabia – The weapons king

The Central and Eastern European weapons supply line can be traced to the winter of 2012, when dozens of cargo planes, loaded with Saudi-purchased Yugoslav-era weapons and ammunition, began leaving Zagreb bound for Jordan. Soon after, the first footage of Croatian weapons in use emerged from the battleground of Syria.

According to a New York Times report from February 2013, a senior Croatian official offered the country’s stockpiles of old weapons for Syria during a visit to Washington in the summer of 2012. Zagreb was later put in touch with the Saudis, who bankrolled the purchases, while the CIA helped with logistics for an airlift that began late that year.

While Croatia’s government has consistently denied any role in shipping weapons to Syria, former US ambassador to Syria Ford confirmed to BIRN and the OCCRP the New York Times account from an anonymous source of how the deal was hatched. He said he was not at liberty to discuss it further.

This was just the beginning of an unprecedented flow of weapons from Central and Eastern Europe into the Middle East, as the pipeline expanded to include stocks from seven other countries. Local arms dealers sourced arms and ammunition from their home countries and brokered the sale of ammunition from Ukraine and Belarus, and even attempted to secure Soviet-made anti-tank systems bought from the UK, as a Europe-wide arms bazaar ensued.

Prior to the Arab Spring in 2011, the arms trade between Eastern Europe and Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, UAE, and Turkey – four key supporters of Syria’s fractured opposition – was negligible to non-existent, according to analysis of export data.

But that changed in 2012. Between that year and 2016, eight Eastern European countries approved at least 806 million euros worth of weapons and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, according to national and EU arms export reports as well as government sources.

Jordan secured export licences worth 155 million euros starting in 2012, while the UAE netted 135 million euros and Turkey 87 million euros, bringing the total to 1.2 billion euros.

Qatar, another key supplier of equipment to the Syrian opposition, does not show up in export licences from Central and Eastern Europe.

Jeremy Binnie, Middle East arms expert for Jane’s Defence Weekly, a publication widely regarded as the most trusted source of defence and security information, said the bulk of the weapon exports from Eastern Europe would likely be destined for Syria and, to a lesser extent, Yemen and Libya.

“With a few exceptions, the militaries of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and Turkey use Western infantry weapons and ammunition, rather than Soviet-designed counterparts,” said Binnie. “It consequently seems likely that large shipments of such materiel being acquired by – or sent to – those countries are destined for their allies in Syria, Yemen, and Libya.”

BIRN and the OCCRP obtained confidential documents from Serbia’s Ministry of Defence and minutes from a series of inter-ministerial meetings in 2013. The documents show the ministry raised concerns that deliveries to Saudi Arabia would be diverted to Syria, pointing out that the Saudis do not use Central and Eastern European stock and have a history of supplying the Syrian opposition. The Ministry turned down the Saudi request only to reverse course more than one year later and approve new arms shipments citing national interest. Saudi security forces, while mostly armed by Western producers, are known to use limited amounts of Central and Eastern European equipment. This includes Czech-produced military trucks and some Romanian-made assault rifles. But even arms exports destined for use by Saudi forces are proving controversial, given their involvement in the conflict in Yemen.

The Netherlands became the first EU country to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia as a result of civilian deaths in Yemen’s civil war, and the European Parliament has called for an EU-wide arms embargo.

Supply Logistics: Cargo flights and airdrops

Weapons from Central and Eastern Europe are delivered to the Middle East by cargo flights and ships. By identifying the planes and ships delivering weapons, reporters were able to track the flow of arms in real time.

Detailed analysis of airport timetables, cargo carrier history, flight tracking data, and air traffic control sources helped pinpoint 68 flights that carried weapons to Middle Eastern conflicts in the past 13 months.  Belgrade, Sofia and Bratislava emerged as the main hubs for the airlift.

Most frequent were flights operated from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. The flights were either confirmed as carrying weapons, were headed to military bases in Saudi Arabia or the UAE or were carried out by regular arms shippers.

The Middle East Airlift 

At least 68 cargo flights from Serbia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have carried thousands of tons of munitions in the past 13 months to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, three key suppliers of the Syrian rebels.

These were identified through detailed analysis of airport timetables, cargo carrier history, flight tracking data, leaked arms contracts, end user certificates, and air traffic control sources.

Cargo flights from Central and Eastern Europe to the Middle East, and particularly military bases, were extremely uncommon before late 2012, when the upsurge in weapons and ammunition purchases began, according to EU flight data and interviews with plane-spotters.

The most commonly used aircraft – the Ilyushin II-76 – can carry up to 50 tonnes of cargo or approximately 16,000 AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles or three million bullets. Others, including the Boeing 747, are capable of hauling at least twice that amount.

Of the 68 flights identified, 50 were officially confirmed to have carried arms and ammunition:

  • Serbia’s Civil Aviation Directorate confirmed that 49 flights departing or passing through Serbia were carrying arms and ammunition from June 1, 2015 to July 4, 2016. The confirmation came following weeks of refusal to comment on grounds of confidentiality and after BIRN and the OCCRP presented its evidence, including photographs showing military boxes being loaded onto planes at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport on four different occasions.
  • An official at the Bulgarian National Customs Agency confirmed one flight, operated by Belarussian cargo carrier Ruby Star Airways, was carrying arms from the remote Bulgarian Gorna Oryahovitsa Airport to Brno–Turany Airport, the Czech Republic, and on to Aqaba, Jordan.
  • An additional 18 flights were identified as very likely to have been carrying arms and ammunition based on one of three variables: the air freight company’s history of weapons supplies; connections to earlier arms flights; or a destination of a military airport:
    • Ten flights were made to Prince Sultan Air Base in Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia and Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, indicating the likely presence of weapons or ammunition. Additionally, 14 flights to Prince Sultan and Al Dhafra air bases are confirmed as having carried weapons during the same period by Serbia’s Civil Aviation Directorate.
    • Seven flights were operated from Slovakia and Bulgaria by Jordan International Air Cargo, part of the Royal Jordanian Air Force, which were revealed to have carried weapons and ammunition from Croatia to Jordan in the winter of 2012. Bulgarian retired colonel and counter-terrorism expert Slavcho Velkov, who maintains extensive contacts with the military, told BIRN and the OCCRP that the Sofia-Amman flights “were transporting weapons to Saudi Arabia, mostly for the Syrian conflict.” Additionally, one other flight operated by this airline is confirmed as having carried weapons during the same period by Serbia’s Civil Aviation Directorate.
    • One flight was operated by a Belarussian cargo carrier TransAVIAexport Airlines, which has a long history of transporting weapons.  In 2014, the airline was hired by Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic to transport Serbian and Belarussian weapons and ammunition to air bases in Libya controlled by various militant groups. The United Nations, UN, Sanctions Committee investigated the case and found potential breaches of UN sanctions, according to a 2015 UN report. Additionally, five flights operated by this airline are confirmed as having carried weapons during the same period by Serbia’s Civil Aviation Directorate.

Many of these flights made an additional stop in Central and Eastern Europe – meaning they were likely picking up more weapons and ammunition – before flying to their final destination.

EU flight statistics provide further evidence of the scale of the operation. They reveal that planes flying from Bulgaria and Slovakia have delivered 2,268 tons of cargo – equal to 44 flights with the most commonly used aircraft – the Ilyushin II-76 – since the summer of 2014 to the same military bases in Saudi Arabia and UAE pinpointed by BIRN and OCCRP.

Distributing the weapons

Arms bought for Syria by the Saudis, Turks, Jordanians and the UAE are then routed through two secret command facilities – called Military Operation Centers (MOC) – in Jordan and Turkey, according to Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria.

These units – staffed by security and military officials from the Gulf, Turkey, Jordan and the US – coordinate the distribution of weapons to vetted Syrian opposition groups, according to information from the Atlanta-based Carter Center, a think tank that has a unit monitoring the conflict.

“Each of the countries involved in helping the armed opposition retained final decision-making authority about which groups in Syria received assistance,” Ford said.

A cache of leaked cargo carrier documents provides further clues to how the Saudi military supplies Syrian rebels.

According to the documents obtained by BIRN and the OCCRP, the Moldovan company AeroTransCargo made six flights in the summer of 2015 carrying at least 250 tonnes of ammunition between military bases in Saudi Arabia and Esenboga International Airport in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, reportedly an arrival point for weapons and ammunition for Syrian rebels.

Pieter Wezeman, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a leading organisation in tracking arms exports, said he suspects the flights are part of the logistical operation to supply ammunition to Syrian rebels.

From the MOCs, weapons are then transported by road to the Syrian border or airdropped by military planes.

A Free Syrian Army commander from Aleppo, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his safety, told BIRN and OCCRP that weapons from Central and Eastern Europe were distributed from centrally controlled headquarters in Syria. “We don’t care about the county of origin, we just know it is from Eastern Europe,” he said.

The Saudis and Turks also provided weapons directly to Islamist groups not supported by the US and who have sometimes ended up fighting MOC-backed factions, Ford added.

The Saudis are also known to have airdropped arms and equipment, including what appeared to be Serbian-made assault rifles to its allies in Yemen.

Ford said that while he was not personally involved in negotiations with Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania over the supply of weapons to Syria, he believes that the CIA is likely to have played a role.

“For operations of this type it would be difficult for me to imagine that there wasn’t some coordination between the intelligence services, but it may have been confined strictly to intelligence channels,” he said.

The US may not have just played a role in the logistics behind delivering Gulf-sponsored weapons from Eastern Europe to the Syrian rebels. Through its Department of Defense’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM), it has also bought and delivered vast quantities of military materiel from Eastern Europe for the Syrian opposition as part of a US$500 million train and equip programme.

Since December 2015, SOCOM has commissioned three cargo ships to transport 4,700 tons of arms and ammunition from ports of Constanta in Romania and Burgas in Bulgaria to the Middle East likely as part of the covert supply of weapons to Syria.

The shipments included heavy machine guns, rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons – as well as bullets, mortars, grenades, rockets and explosives, according to US procurement documents.

The origin of arms shipped by SOCOM is unknown and the material listed in transport documents is available from stockpiles across Central and Eastern Europe.

Not long after one of the deliveries, SOCOM supported Kurdish groups published an image on Twitter and Facebook showing a warehouse piled with US-brokered ammunition boxes in northern Syria SOCOM would not confirm or deny that the shipments were bound for Syria.

US procurement records also reveal that SOCOM secured from 2014 to 2016 at least 25 million euros (27 million dollars) worth of Bulgarian and 11 million euros (12 million dollars) in Serbian weapons and ammunition for covert operations and Syrian rebels..

A Booming Business

Arms control researcher Wilcken said Central and Eastern Europe had been well positioned to cash in on the huge surge in demand for weapons following the Arab Spring.

“Geographical proximity and lax export controls have put some Balkan states in pole position to profit from this trade, in some instances with covert US assistance,” he added. “Eastern Europe is rehabilitating Cold War arms industries which are expanding and becoming profitable again.”

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic boasted recently that his country could produce five times the amount of arms it currently makes and still not meet the demand.

“Unfortunately in some parts of the world they are at war more than ever and everything you produce, on any side of the world you can sell it,” he said.

Arms manufacturers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are running at full capacity with some adding extra shifts and others not taking new orders.

Saudi Arabia’s top officials – more used to negotiating multi-billion-dollar fighter-jet deals with Western defence giants – have been forced to deal with a handful of small-time arms brokers operating in Eastern Europe who have access to weapons such as AK-47s and rocket launchers

Middlemen such as Serbia’s CPR Impex and Slovakia’s Eldon have played a critical role in supplying weapons and ammunition to the Middle East

The inventory of each delivery is usually unknown due to the secrecy surrounding arms deals but two end-user certificates and one export licence, obtained by BIRN and the OCCRP, reveal the extraordinary scope of the buy-up for Syrian beneficiaries.

For example, the Saudi Ministry of Defence expressed its interest in buying from Serbian arms dealer CPR Impex a number of weapons including hundreds of aging T-55 and T-72 tanks, millions of rounds of ammunition, multi-launch missile systems and rocket launchers. Weapons and ammunition listed were produced in the former Yugoslavia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic.

An export licence issued to a little-known Slovakian company called Eldon in January 2015 granted the firm the right to transport thousands of Eastern European rocket-propelled grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and almost a million bullets worth nearly 32 million euros to Saudi Arabia.

BIRN and OCCRP’s analysis of social media shows weapons that originated from the former states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, and Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria are now present on the battlefields of Syria and Yemen.

While experts believe the countries continue to shirk their responsibility, the weapons pipeline adds more and more fuel to a white hot conflict that leads to more and more misery.

“Proliferation of arms to the region has caused untold human suffering; huge numbers of people have been displaced and parties to the conflict have committed serious human rights violations including   abductions, executions, enforced disappearances, torture and rape,” said Amnesty’s Wilcken.

Additional reporting by Atanas Tchobanov, Dusica Tomovic, Jelena Cosic, Jelena Svircic, Lindita Cela, RISE Moldova and Pavla Holcova.

This investigation is produced by BIRN as a part of Paper Trail to Better Governance project.


bin Ladin Just Recorded an Audio Message, What?

Message from Bin Laden’s son exposes ‘Iran’s revival of al-Qaeda’

al-Arabiya: An audio message released recently by Osama Bin Laden’s son Hamza has signaled the “continuation of Iranian sponsorship” of terrorism within al-Qaeda, a report by a US-based think tank has found.

 It is also important to note, Hamza has brothers.

In the message released on May 9 and titled “Jerusalem is but a bride, and her dowry is blood,” Hamza called on all Syrian militant groups to unite and “liberate Palestine.”

According to a report released this week by SAPRAC, the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee, “Al-Qaeda observers believe the new message released by Hamza Bin Laden signals the continuation of Iranian sponsorship of Bin Laden’s son, which started after the tragic events of 9 / 11.

“Blatantly defying world powers, Tehran hosted Hamza Bin Laden and provided him with necessary security, according to many intelligence agencies across the world.”

Believed to be 24 or 25 years old, Hamza is expected by experts to potentially become the next al-Qaeda leader

The SAPRAC report added that on March 16, before the release of the audio message,” American intelligence declassified 113 hand written messages by Osama Bin Laden. These included instructions on how Al-Qaeda should deal with Iran.”

The messages also revealed that Bin Laden said Iran is ‘the chief pathway for our money, men, communiqué, and hostages”.

Bin Laden also urged his men “not to start a front against Iran.”

According to SAPRAC, “this confirms the strong and warming ties between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Infographic: Who is Hamza Bin Laden. (Al Arabiya English)

Three senior al-Qaeda members linked to Iran

The United States recently imposed sanctions on three senior al-Qaeda members living in Iran, shining a brighter spotlight on Tehran’s involvement in violent extremism in the region.

The US Treasury department specifically designated Faisal Jassim Mohammed Al-Amri Al-Khalidi, Yisra Muhammad Ibrahim Bayumi, and Abu Bakr Muhammad Muhammad Ghumayn as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” according to their findings published last week.

“Today’s action sanctions senior al-Qaeda operatives responsible for moving money and weapons across the Middle East,” Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement.

Related reading: But John Kerry, Iran Does Support al Qaeda

“The Treasury remains committed to targeting al-Qaeda’s terrorist activity and denying al-Qaeda and its critical support networks access to the international financial system.”

Infographic: Extremists with a presence in Iran. (Al Arabiya English)

Al-Khalidi is a senior al-Qaeda official who was an emir of a brigade and part of a new generation of al-Qaida operatives, according to the US Treasury report. In May 2015, as al-Qaeda Military Commission Chief, he participated in an annual council meeting with other al-Qaeda commanders to discuss weapons acquisition.

As of 2011, al-Khalidi was responsible for liaising between al-Qaeda associates and al-Qaeda Central Shura members and leaders within the US-designated terrorist group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan.

The US also designated Bayumi for acting for or on behalf of al-Qaeda. He is a veteran al-Qaeda member who has been located in Iran since 2014 and a member of al-Qaeda since at least 2006.

Related reading: The PR and Resurgence of al Qaeda

As of mid-2015, Bayumi was reportedly involved in freeing al-Qaeda members in Iran. As of early 2015, he served as a mediator with Iranian authorities.

The third named operative, Ghumayn, is a senior leader who has served in several financial, communications, and logistical roles for the group. As of 2015, Ghumayn assumed control of the financing and organization of al-Qaeda members located in Iran.

On Tuesday, Iran denied the claims by Washington that the three senior al-Qaeda figures are based in the country, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Related reading: Palestinian Terrorism: No Different Than ISIS and Al Qaeda

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was quoted as saying that Iran doesn’t have “any information about their presence on its soil.”

Revealing more Iran links

The recent sanctions come on the heels of documents leaked in March that reveal the level of ties between al-Qaeda and Iran, particularly on the situation in Iraq where the two sides allegedly sought to reach a deal.

One of those leaked documents was a letter written by an al-Qaeda operative in which he tells a fellow operative named Taqfik that he had met with someone in Tehran and that the Iranians wanted to build contacts with someone representing the “mayor,” a codename for former al-Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden.

The trove of letters also revealed Bin Laden ordered his al-Qaeda deputies not to attack Iran, which he called a “main artery” for his organization’s operations.

The order was part of a collection of 112 letters taken from bin Laden’s compound by US special ops forces after he was killed in 2011.

Those documents also revealed further names of operatives with links to Iran:

Abu Hafs the Mauritanian

Status: Returned to Mauritania in 2012

He was Bin Laden’s religious adviser and al-Qaeda in Iran’s expert on Islamic law. His official name is Mahfouz Ould al-Walid.

Abu al-Kayr al-Masri

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran. Released in prisoner exchange with al-Qaeda in 2015. Whereabouts unknown

He was the Chairman of al-Qaeda’s Management Council and former chief of foreign relations for al-Qaeda, including liaison to the Taliban. He is reported to have long-standing ties to current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Saif al-Adel

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran. Released in prisoner exchange with al-Qaeda in 2015. Whereabouts unknown

He was a member of al-Qaeda’s Management Council and was involved in planning operations and directing al-Qaeda propaganda efforts. He was a former chief of military operations and worked closely with Abu Muhammad al-Masri. There is currently a $5mln reward for information leading to his capture.

Abu Muhammad al-Masri

Status: Presumed to be in Iran. Released in prisoner exchange with al-Qaeda in 2015. Whereabouts unknown

He was a member of al-Qaeda’s Management Council and is considered the “most experienced and capable operational planner” not in US or allied custody. He is former chief of training and worked closely with Saif al-Adel. $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith

Status: He was captured and tried in US federal court in New York. Sentenced to life in prison.

He was a member of al-Qaeda’s Management Council and official spokesman for al-Qaeda before detention

Abu Dahhak, aka Ali Saleh Husain al-Tabuki

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran

He is an al-Qaeda facilitator and former representative of Chechen mujahideen in Afghanistan

Abu Layth al-Libi, aka Ali Ammar Ashur al-Rufayi’l

Status: Killed in US drone strike

He was a paramilitary commander and active in Eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. He is said to exercise significant autonomy and enjoys long-standing ties to senior managers.

Abd al-Aziz al-Masri, aka Ali Sayed Muhammad Mustafa Al-Bakri

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran

Al-Qaeda associate; senior poisons and explosives expert; involved in nuclear research since late 1990s; had close relationships with Saif al-Adel and Khalid Sheik Muhammad.

Abu Dujana al-Masri

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran

Explosives instructor before detention. He was a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and is Zawahiri’s son-in-law

Muhammad Ahmad Shawqi al-Islambuli, aka Muhammad Ahmad Shawqi Islambouli

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran

He was an al-Qaeda facilitator and senior member of Egyptian Al-Gamaat Al-Islamiyah. Has former ties to Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and is the brother of Anwar Sadat assassin Khalid al Islambuli.

Thirwat Shihata

Status: Has left Iran. Believed to have traveled to Libya

He is a former Zawahiri deputy and experienced operational planner. Considered as a respected among al-Qaeda rank and file with previous ties to Zarqawi.

Khalid al-Sudani

Status: Presumed to be in Pakistan, Jordan or Iran

Member of the al-Qaeda Shura Council.

Qassim al-Suri aka Yasin Baqush

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran

Provides communications link between al-Qaeda leaders in Waziristan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Planning, coordinating attack plots in Europe with several al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-affiliated cells. There is a $10mln reward for information leading to his capture

Ali Mujahid Tekushir

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran

Provides explosives, computer and Internet training to al-Qaeda recruits. Facilitates movement of senior-level extremists from Iran into Iraq. Reports link him to plots against the New York subway system in December 2005.

Abu Talha Hamza al-Baluchi

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran

Iran-based al-Qaeda facilitator

Jafar al Uzbeki, aka Jafar the Uzbek

Status: Presumed to have at one point been in Iran

Representative of al-Qaeda senior leadership working to negotiate the release of al-Qaeda members held by Iran

Anas al Liby, aka Abu Anas al-Libi

Status: Captured by US commandos in Libya but died of liver cancer before he was able to stand trial in federal court in New York

Believed to have been involved in the 1998 East Africa bombings; senior member of al-Qaeda; member of Libyan Islamic Fighting Group security committee

Hillary’s VP, Kaine and the Muslim Brotherhood

Clinton VP Pick Tim Kaine’s Islamist Ties

Clarion: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s newly-announced running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, has a history of embracing Islamists. He appointed a Hamas supporter to a state immigration commission; spoke at a dinner honoring a Muslim Brotherhood terror suspect and received donations from well-known Islamist groups.

Appointing a Muslim Brotherhood Front Leader Who Supports Hamas

In 2007, Kaine was the Governor of Virginia and, of all people chose Muslim American Society (MAS) President Esam Omeish to the state’s Immigration Commission. A Muslim organization against Islamism criticized the appointment and reckless lack of vetting.

Federal prosecutors said in a 2008 court filing that MAS was “founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.” A Chicago Tribune investigation in 2004 confirmed this, as well as MAS’ crafty use of deceptive semantics to appear moderate. Convicted terrorist and admitted U.S. Muslim Brotherhood member Abdurrahman Alamoudi testified in 2012, “Everyone knows that MAS is the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Read our fully-documented profile of MAS here.

According to Omeish’s website, he was also president of the National Muslim Students Association (click there to read our profile about its Muslim Brotherhood origins) and served for two years on the national board of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which the Justice Department also labeled as a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity and unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas-financing trial.

His website says he was the vice president of Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center, a radical mosque known for its history of terror ties, including having future Al-Qaeda operative Anwar Al-Awlaki as its imam and being frequented by two of the 9/11 hijackers and Nidal Hasan, the perpetrator of the Fort Hood shooting. Omeish’s website says he remains a board member.

Omeish’s website also says he was chairman of the board of Islamic American University, which had Hamas financier and Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef Al-Qaradawi chairman of its board until at least 2006.

Omeish was also chairman of the board for the Islamic Center of Passaic County, a New Jersey mosque with heavy terrorist ties and an imam that the Department of Homeland Security wants to deport for having links to Hamas.

Omeish directly expressed extremism before Kaine appointed him. He claimed the Brotherhood is “moderate” and admitted that he and MAS are influenced by the Islamist movement.

In 2004, Omeish praised the Hamas spiritual leader as “our beloved Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.” Videotape from 2000 also surfaced where Omeish pledged to help Palestinians who understand “the jihad way is the way to liberate your land” (he denied this was an endorsement of violence).

A holy war waged against non-Muslims on behalf of Islam considered to be a religious duty; also, a personal struggle in devotion to Islam.

  When a state delegate wrote a letter to then-Governor Kaine warning him that the MAS has “questionable origins,” a Kaine spokesperson said the charge was bigotry.

Kaine obviously failed to do any kind of basic background checking in Omeish.

Omeish resigned under heavy pressure, and Kaine acknowledged that his statements “concerned” him. But, apparently, they didn’t concern him enough to actually learn about the Muslim Brotherhood network in his state and to take greater precautions in the future.


Speaking at a Dinner Honoring Muslim Brotherhood Terror Suspect

In September 2011, Kaine spoke at a “Candidates Night” dinner organized by the New Dominion PAC that presented a Lifetime Achievement Award for Jamal Barzinji, who the Global Muslim Brotherhood Watch describes as a “founding father of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.”

He first came on to the FBI’s radar in 1987-1988 when an informant inside the Brotherhood identified Barzinji and his associated groups as being part of a network of Brotherhood fronts to “institute the Islamic Revolution in the United States.” The source said Barzinji and his colleagues were “organizing political support which involves influencing both public opinion in the United States as well as the United States Government” using “political action front groups with no traceable ties.”

Barzinji had his home searched as part of a terrorism investigation in 2003. U.S. Customs Service Senior Special Agent David Kane said in a sworn affidavit that Barzinji and the network of entities he led were investigated because he “is not only closed associated with PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad]…but also with Hamas.”  Counter-terrorism reporter Patrick Poole broke the story that Barzinji was nearly prosecuted but the Obama Justice Department dropped plans for indictment.

Barzinji played a major role in nearly every Brotherhood front in the U.S. and was vice president of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), which came under terrorism investigation also. Barzinji’s group was so close to Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative Sami Al-Arian that IIIT’s President considered his group and Al-Arian’s to be essentially one entity.

The indictment of Al-Arian and his colleagues says that they “would and did seek to obtain support from influential individuals, in the United States under the guise of promoting and protecting Arab rights (emphasis mine).”

The quotes about Brotherhood operative Barzinji’s aspirations to use civil rights advocacy as a means to influence politicians are especially relevant when you consider that video from the event honoring Barzinji shows Kaine saying that it was his fourth time at the annual dinner and thanked his “friends” that organized it for helping him in his campaign for lieutenant-governor and governor and asked them to help his Senate campaign.


Islamist Financial Support

Barzinji’s organization, IIIT, donated $10,000 in 2011 to the New Dominion PAC, the organization that held the event honoring Barzinji that Kaine spoke at. The Barzinji-tied New Dominion PAC donated $43,050 to Kaine’s gubernatorial campaign between 2003 and 2005. That figure doesn’t even include other political recipients that assisted Kaine’s campaign.

The PAC has very strong ties to the Democratic Party in Virginia, with the Virginia Public Access Project tallying almost $257,000 in donations. This likely explains why Barzinji’s grandson served in Governor McAuliffe’s administration and then became the Obama Administration’s liaison to the Muslim-American community.

The Middle East Forum’s Islamist Money in Politics database shows another $4,300 donated to Kaine’s Senate campaign in 2011-2012 by officials from U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entities Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Another $3,500 came from Hisham Al-Talib, a leader from Barzinji’s IIIT organization.

It’s worth noting that Barzinji’s IIIT donated $3,500 to Esam Omeish’s 2009 campaign delegate campaign, tying together the cadre of Muslim Brotherhood-linked leaders who got into Kaine’s orbit.



Kaine has no excuse. If he has an Internet connection, then he and his staff should have known about their backgrounds. They were either extremely careless (something Kaine would have in common with the top of the ticket) or knew and looked the other way in the hopes of earning donations and votes.

Clinton’s choice of Kaine is widely seen as a way of strengthening her campaign’s national security credentials. Yet, Clinton is asking us to trust a candidate on national security who appoints a Hamas supporter to an immigration commission and speaks at a dinner honoring a Muslim Brotherhood terror suspect.


The Failed Coup in Turkey Still Matters


Turkey has been an important member of NATO since 1952. The United States maintains an estimated 60 nuclear weapons there. The big question is whether relations between Turkey and Russia will be fully restored and there are facts telling us that per a weekend telephone call, both Russian and Turkey are blaming the United States for the coup with different motivations.

At the NATO summit just two weeks ago, President Obama and other NATO leaders reiterated that “deterrence and defense, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy.”

Only U.S. nuclear forces are shared within the alliance, and they remain under U.S. control but are matched with allied air crews from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. Weapons are stationed in those countries to maximize the demonstration of alliance solidarity. If the weapons are in the U.S. and we have to choose to send them, enemies might think they could give us second thoughts (like Obama had about the Syria red line). That’s destabilizing. Even the perception that the United States would not honor its NATO pledge would dangerously erode Europe’s security.

The most effective nonproliferation policy has actually been security guarantees by the United States to its allies. Several countries — including Germany, Japan and South Korea — have the ability to build nuclear weapons but have chosen not to because they trust in our commitment to defend them. If the U.S. were to withdraw weapons from Turkey, it would be a further signal to already worried allies that the United States can no longer be relied on as a security partner. And that could easily lead countries like Turkey to develop nuclear weapons of their own. More here from NYT’s.

The airbase named Incirlik in Turkey was built by the United States and it is a coalition airbase. So far as reported by the Department of Defense, Erdogan turned off the power source to Incirlik in defiance of the failed coup and closed the airspace stopping all sorties by coalition nations. John Kerry worked the phone diligently to restore airspace permission but Incirlik now is operating under generated power until Erdogan has completed his purge of the military and restores confidence in his loyal forces.

Meanwhile, there are some interesting facts still emerging regarding the coup. The government of Turkey provided electronically upon request by John Kerry the evidence that Fethullah Gulen was behind the coup.

MEE/ ISTANBUL, Turkey A list reportedly found in the pocket of a colonel suggests highly detailed planning was involved in the failed coup attempt launched in Turkey on Friday night.

The lengthy list, seen by Middle East Eye, designates military officers who were set to take over the running of critical posts once the coup was successful.

Positions mentioned on the list include those of treasury undersecretary, Turkish Airlines general manager, managers for Istanbul’s two airports, managers for the state-run broadcaster TRT and news agency Anadolu, the Ankara mayor’s post, head of police and interior minister among many others.

The majority of the names chosen for appointments are drawn from the country’s air force and the gendarmerie. Factions from within these two forces were the ones most heavily involved in the coup attempt.

The list also included changes to positions within the military establishment.

Government officials say that followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the United States, are behind this attempted coup.

Gulen, a former ally turned foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), became the government’s public enemy number one they tried to implicate Erdogan and his close circle in corruption allegations.

One of the names on the list, Mikail Gullu, a military attache at the Turkish embassy in Kuwait, was arrested at Damman airport in Saudi Arabia on Sunday following a request from Ankara and is expected to be deported shortly.

Gullu appears on the list as the designated general manager of the state-owned armament development and production factory.

Among other high-profile names on the list is Sercan Gurcan, and colonel and commander of the gendarmerie in Istanbul province. More here from MiddleEastEye.

More details on how the Turkish military operated and the planned actions during the coup.

The Coup: An Air Force Led Assault with a Limited Ground Component

(Inpart): The planning for the coup appears to have begun months ago, but was implemented hastily, after MIT learned of the plot at 4:00 PM on Friday. Despite this, the putschists were able to marshal air and armor units to carry out a near synchronized attack on pre-designated points in Istanbul, Ankara, and the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris, where Erdogan was on holiday. The leader, according to Sabah, was Muharrem Kose, a retired colonel. General Mehmet Disli, a retired two star general in the land forces and the brother of an AKP member of parliament reportedly ordered the start of the military operation, setting in motion a complicated operation that involved air and ground units and a number of current and retired senior officers. To date, 103 admirals and generals have been arrested (out of a total of 358), which corresponds to 28 percent of the total in the Turkish Armed Forces.

The military aspect of the coup began around 10:00 PM, first with the closing of the two Istanbul bridges connecting the European continent with Asia. Simultaneously, up to six  F-16s from Akinci, an airbase some 12 miles north of Ankara, began a series of supersonic passes over Turkey’s capital city, refueling from four tankers flown from Incirlik Air Base, near the city of Adana. There are reports that F-16s from Diyarbakir air base also joined, perhaps providing two of the six F-16s. Incirlik has been a home to U.S. Air Force units since the 1950s. Lately, it has served as the hub for the U.S.-led air war against the ISIL. The base, since 1980, is under the command of a Turkish officer.

The F16s were soon joined by at least two Cobra attack helicopters and an additional Sikorsky SU-70 tasked — it appears — with strafing TURKSAT, Turkey’s main satellite television provider, as well as Golbasi, the headquarters for Turkey’s elite, special police forces. The putschists also sent eight cargo aircraft from Kayseri to Malatya airbase with weapons for the plotters, according to the military blog, The Aviationist — a detail since confirmed in  Murat Yetkin’s column in Hurriyet Daily News.

The F-16s also attacked the Turkish parliament and Erdogan’s palace while ground forces advanced on the prime minister’s residence. All three buildings sustained some damage, but the Parliament building was the most heavily damaged. Meanwhile, in Istanbul, land forces, most probably based somewhere nearby, did fire on protesters on one of the two bridges spanning the Bosphorus in the opening hours of the coup. Some of those who had come out to demonstrate against the unfolding operation were killed.

These events moved in parallel to three commando teams in three additional helicopters, based at Cigli air base near Izmir, flying to the hotel where Erdogan was presumed to be staying. The soldiers in one helicopter either fast roped into the building or landed nearby (depending on the source), but Erdogan’s security team had moved him to hotel nearby, missing the assault teams, according to Karim Shaheen, by some 25 minutes to an hour. Many more details here from WotR.

More Hidden News/Facts on Iran

Here’s Hezbollah’s game-changing secret drone base

For years, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant organization Hezbollah has incorporated unmanned aerial vehicles into their arsenal, developing perhaps the most sophisticated aerial capabilities of any non-state armed group on earth.

IHS Jane’s has now used Google Maps to locate their airbase in northern Lebanon, according to an analysis published on April 23rd.

Hezbollah is arguably the Arab world’s most capable military force. The group is a direct proxy of the revolutionary regime in Iran, which sends the group perhaps as much as $350 million in aid a year, according to Matthew Levitt’s Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.

Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets — an arsenal that likely includes Russian-made precision-guided missiles. Its infusion of fighters is largely responsible for the survival of Syria’s Assad regime after four years of war against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and secular armed groups. Hezbollah has operated cells and smuggling networks on every continent, and it’s the only Arab military force that can plausibly claim a battlefield victory against Israel.

The airbase is alarming evidence of the group’s vaunted operational capabilities — as well as the depth of its relationship with Tehran.

The airstrip includes a 2200-foot unpaved runway, several outbuildings, and an antenna that “could potentially be used to extend the range of a UAV ground control station.” (It can be found at 34.3109624, 36.3492857 on Google Maps).

Hezbollah airfield Business Insider via Google Maps

It’s located a few miles south of the town of Hermel in northern Lebanon, and about 10 miles to the west of the border wt ih Syria.

As the Jane’s report notes, the airstrip is too short to accommodate most manned aircraft, while its unpaved surface and mountainous surrounding terrain make it largely off-limits to planes that technically capable of landing on a runway of its length. That means there’s a strong possibility it was “built for Iranian-made UAVs, including the Ababil-3, which has been employed over Syria by forces allied to the Syrian regime, and possibly the newer and larger Shahed-129.”

The Ababil-3 is a small reconnaissance drone with limited range and flight endurance; it’s also been deployed by the Sudanese armed forces in the former Iranian ally’s various civil conflicts. But as The Aviationist notes, the Shahed-129 is superficially similar in design to the US’s Reaper and Predator platforms, and Iranian military officials claim that the drone can carry as many as 8 Sadid missiles.’  Read more here from BusinessInsider

Hezbollah airstrip Google Maps

Yes there is more to know about Iran, that country which is designated by the United States as the largest state sponsor of terror, and the one that the Obama White House normalized relations with and a country forced upon the global stage for economic development. This is the country that can build, is building a nuclear program that is the precursor to nuclear weapons.

Iran Deploys Hezbollah-Trained Afghan Sniper Brigade in Syria

DefenseNews: TEL AVIV — An Israeli intelligence source confirmed Monday that a new unit of Afghan snipers trained by Lebanese-based Hezbollah and financed by Iran is now operating beyond its northern border on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In a July 18 interview, the source said the sniper unit – part of the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade – is one of several additional groups of special forces that are being deployed in the fight against the Islamic State organization, also known by its Arabic acronym Da’esh.

“These Afghan Shias are battle-hardened and focused at the moment on fighting Da’esh. But we’re obviously following with interest any introduction of new forces and capabilities in that theater that may turn their attention to us when the time is right for them,” said the Israeli analyst, who insisted on anonymity because the interview did not take place through normal authorization channels.

The Israeli source validated reports earlier this month from Iran’s Tasnim, a news agency affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG), that a new group of snipers specializing in camouflage and concealment tactics was now operational in Syria.

According to a July 9 report, Tasnim acknowledged that the unit was part of the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade trained by Hezbollah, which operates in Syria under the command of the IRGC.

Another Tasnim report from July 12, translated by Amir Toumaj, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in an account published by the online Long War Journal, noted that “Hundreds of special Fatemiyoun snipers have been deployed to defend sacred shrines across Syria and have joined Fatemiyoun combat units.”

According to Toumaj’s translation, “additional groups of special Afghan forces with advanced training in combat, commando capabilities, guerilla warfare, anti-armor missiles, shoulder-launched missiles, etc. are expected to join” Fatemiyoun ranks.

“The notable point is that the special Fatemiyoun forces have been trained under skilled Afghan instructors who themselves have completed training in special courses under the supervision of skilled Hezbollah forces,” noted the Tasnim report.

According to Toumaj’s research of Iranian media, the IRGC expanded the ranks of Fatemiyoun forces from a brigade to a full division last year; and some 380 have been killed thus far in Syria.

A recent study by Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center noted that one year after signing of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, Tehran has no intention of reducing its ties to Hezbollah, a designated terror organization.

In its report “Spotlight on Iran” for the week of July 4-17, the Center cited a July 12 interview on state-run Fars TV with Abbas Araghchi, Iranian deputy foreign minister, in which the official characterized the Iran-Hezbollah axis as “a priority… that could not be changed.”

“Araghchi’s remarks reinforce our assessment that no significant change can be expected in the quality and quantity of Iran’s support for Hezbollah, despite its effort to lift the international economic restrictions imposed on the country in recent years,” the Center noted.

It added, “Iran will be prepared to continue paying the diplomatic, media and even financial price in its relations with the United States and the West for continued fostering of Hezbollah as a military-political force and an Iranian proxy.”