How As­sad MP struck busi­ness deal with Daesh


RAQQA/DUBAI: While Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad was ac­cus­ing the West of turn­ing a blind eye to Daesh smug­gling, a mem­ber of his Par­lia­ment was qui­etly do­ing busi­ness with the group, farmers and ad­min­is­tra­tors in the mil­i­tants’ for­mer strong­hold said.

The ar­range­ment helped the Syr­ian regime to feed ar­eas still un­der its con­trol after Daesh took over the north­east­ern wheat­grow­ing re­gion dur­ing the six-year-old civil war, they said.

Traders work­ing for busi­ness­man and law­maker Hos­sam Al-Katerji bought wheat from farmers in Daesh ar­eas and trans­ported it to Da­m­as­cus, al­low­ing the group to take a cut, five farmers and two ad­min­is­tra­tors in Raqqa prov­ince told Reuters.

Al-Katerji’s of­fice man­ager, Mo­hammed Kassab, con­firmed that Al-Katerji Group was pro­vid­ing Syr­ian regime ter­ri­to­ries with wheat from the north­east of Syria through Daesh ter­ri­tory but de­nied any con­tact with Daesh. It is not clear how much As­sad knew of the wheat trad­ing.

Co­op­er­a­tion over wheat be­tween Daesh and a fig­ure from Syria’s es­tab­lish­ment, which is backed by Iran, would mark a new ironic twist in a war that has deep­ened regional Sunni-Shi­ite di­vi­sions.

Reuters con­tacted Al-Katerji’s of­fice six times to re­quest com­ment but was not given ac­cess to him.

His of­fice man­ager Kassab, asked how the com­pany man­aged to buy and trans­port the wheat with­out any con­tact with Daesh, said: “It was not easy, the sit­u­a­tion was very dif­fi­cult.” When asked for de­tails he said only that it was a long ex­pla­na­tion. He did not re­turn fur­ther calls or mes­sages.

Da­m­as­cus, un­der US and EU sanc­tions over the con­flict and al­leged oil trad­ing with Daesh, strongly de­nies any busi­ness links with the hard-line mil­i­tants, ar­gu­ing that the US is re­spon­si­ble for their rise to power.

The self-de­clared caliphate they set up across large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014 has all but collapsed after West­ern-backed forces drove them out of their Iraqi strong­hold, Mo­sul and sur­rounded them in Raqqa, where they are now con­fined to a small area. Rus­sian and Ira­nian-backed Syr­ian forces are at­tack­ing them else­where, such as Deir Ez­zor on Syria’s east­ern bor­der, where Kassab says he was speak­ing from, in a con­tin­u­ing strug­gle for the up­per hand be­tween world pow­ers.

Five farmers in Raqqa de­scribed how they sold wheat to Al-Katerji’s traders dur­ing Daesh rule in in­ter­views at the build­ing hous­ing the Raqqa Civil Coun­cil, formed to take over once the city is re­taken.

“The op­er­a­tion was or­ga­nized,” said Mah­moud Al-Hadi, who owns agri­cul­tural land near Raqqa and who, like the other farmers, had come to the coun­cil’s ce­ment of­fices to seek help.

“I would sell to small traders who sent the wheat to big traders who sent it on to Al-Katerji and the regime through two or three traders,” he said.

He and the other farmers said they all had to pay Daesh a 10 per­cent tax, or za­kat, and sold all of their sea­son’s sup­plies to Al-Katerji’s traders un­der the multi-lay­ered scheme.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials said Al-Katerji’s traders bought up wheat from Raqqa and Deir Ez­zor and gave Daesh 20 per­cent.

Hus­sam Al-Katerji

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