Expert says the stakes are high. If they fail to open their doors to inspectors, there is a high chance these mortars will be used to assassinate Lebanese opposition leaders
This Lebanese-Canadian’s offshore company is accused of shipping mortar shells that have fallen into the hands of ISIS
Also known as h1,h2, h3 and h4, the four-metre-high mortar tubes – tangerine-pink in colour – have gained in popularity, luring amateur talent into a violent underworld. Their use has led to some worrying incidents, including allegations that they could have been used to arm the Islamic State.
Last month, the militants’ presence became more pronounced across the border in Syria and Iraq, where they routinely threaten military installations, pummel civilian areas and attack more-moderate groups such as the Free Syrian Army.
No sooner had their Syrian-based leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared that he was creating a caliphate, than he turned his focus to what he called the next phase of the caliphate: a guerrilla warfare aimed at greater control of eastern Syrian territory and the smuggling of oil from Syrian fields.
In December, a document obtained by Kurdish and Western intelligence agencies from inside the organisation’s secretariat, reportedly distributed to regional commanders across Syria, warned that three of the group’s three main Iraqi leaders had died and recommended that he reshuffle the leadership.
Not many credible sources have managed to get hold of such sensitive documents. But a Lebanese-Canadian businessman has now offered a glimpse into the workings of the group that Baghdadi claims to lead.
Dhia Ahmad, through his company Othman Abayomen, Ltd. contacted the Guardian in early February requesting that the trading arm of his company be allowed to operate without any inspection, as the trade of Iraqi fire mortars is legal.
Officials from the world’s top arms inspectors, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), are also applying a cold shoulder to the firm, citing their own reluctance to carry out inspection missions in countries not listed in the treaty establishing the group.
According to the OPCW’s procedures, bodies like Othman Abayomen can only operate if their buyers are also members of the group, as most countries in the world are subject to the responsibility of buying, selling and distributing arms. In previous years they had granted this right for small deals made by private traders, including companies from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
“We are against terrorist organisations and we do not think that they are very logical because their only purpose is to harm civilians,” said Mohammad al-Dalati, director of the OPCW’s Qassim Division in Syria, the organisation’s government relations office in Syria. “Every trade made by OPCW members or NGOs [non-governmental organisations] is determined by the agreements of the OPCW and there is no supervision of the association by the OPCW. But this does not mean that we have no agreement with the Lebanese authorities, in accordance with our rules and regulations, about the information we receive on them.”
The company that Ahmad founded appears to be one of only a handful of legal entities that export mortars to the Middle East, and has faced previous bans from OPCW members.
But the question that is doing the rounds in Damascus is whether the company is one of few actual intermediaries between OPCW members and their buyers. Given the preference for sanctioning any suspected munitions dealers, it may be an ethical issue.
Othman Abayomen’s warehouses in the Jordanian port of Eilat, near Israel, are mostly under strict security arrangements. The company declined to comment when approached by the Guardian.
Originally written by Mahmoud Alhoury