Part 1: Inside Future Movement's Syria Arms Trade
It was soon revealed that the source had been working with Sakr for more than a year as part of an operations room established to support the Syrian uprising. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)
By: Radwan Mortada - Published November 29, 2012
Al-Akhbar has obtained recordings of Future Movement MP Okab Sakr organizing weapons transfers to the armed Syrian opposition at the behest of Future leader Saad Hariri.
The phone call is the first hard evidence of the role Sakr and his backers in Future were playing in providing arms and logistical support to the Syrian rebels.
In a three-part series built on documents, audio recordings, and interviews with sources close to Sakr, Al-Akhbar will shed light on Sakr’s attempts to hijack the Syrian uprising for his own means while running the armed opposition into the ground.
A few weeks ago, Al-Akhbar’s offices in Beirut received an anonymous phone call. The caller claimed he was in possession of “audio recordings which will expose MP Okab Sakr and his role is destroying the [Syrian] revolution.”
The news did not come as a surprise. Sakr’s connection to the Syrian opposition was well-known, and his role as an arms dealer to the rebels had been documented in the press.
Neither was it the first time that information about the existence of audio recordings of Sakr’s conversations had circulated.
Al-Akhbar initially doubted the caller and his motivations, but he promptly sent the first recording. It sounded a lot like Sakr’s voice, which was later confirmed by audio experts.
A few days later, the anonymous caller made another phone call to Al-Akhbar and gave his email address. Further communications were carried out over email and phone to identify the extent of the recorded material and its importance.
The source did not reveal the number of recordings in his possession, saying only that there were dozens. For further confirmation, he sent an excerpt from a second recording.
It was Sakr’s voice again and the voice experts were also inclined to believe so. Yet the recordings raised more questions about the identity of the source, including how the recordings came into his possession and what he hoped to gain by leaking them to the press.
It was soon revealed that the source had been working with Sakr for more than a year as part of an operations room established to support the Syrian uprising.
As for his motivation to provide the recordings, the source said that “Sakr ruined the revolution with his crazy dealings.”According to the source, there are several operations centers: one in Antakya, one in Adana, and one in Istanbul. He mentioned that Sakr had his own building in the Floriya neighborhood in Istanbul where meetings are held from time to time.
He also said that around 20 young men from various Syrian regions are charged with running military operations from the rooms. They coordinate with commanders of armed opposition groups to provide needed funding and hardware, and then they direct fighters toward areas under attack or siege, all under the supervision of Turkish and Qatari intelligence officers.
According to the source, all of this was coordinated through satellite communications devices, especially Thuraya and Iridium satellite phones. He added that the men regularly visit Syria to distribute money to opposition leaders.
The source also said that Sakr is very close to the abductor of the nine Lebanese pilgrims, known as Abu-Ibrahim. He claimed the latter received a monthly salary of $50,000, hand-delivered by young men from Sakr’s office.
As for his motivation to provide the recordings, the source said that “Sakr ruined the revolution with his crazy dealings.”
“During the meetings, we would object, for example, to his decision to send weapons to a particular area that we wanted to remain a safe haven for those fleeing the fighting,” the source told Al-Akhbar. “But [Sakr] would hysterically insist on his decision, indifferent to the lives of people.”
He went on to accuse the Lebanese MP of “dealing out money to the commanders of armed groups without discriminating between mercenary killers and patriotic opposition.”
“By God, if the money and weapons were dispersed by Okab in the correct manner, [Syrian president] Bashar al-Assad could have been toppled four times over,” he complained.
The source also mentioned some incidents that “showed Sakr’s real nature,” explaining that Sakr “provided armed support to topple the regime because he hated the regime, not because he loved the Syrian people.”
On several occasions, the Lebanese MP refused to give out financial support to the wounded or civilian refugees, saying “there are humanitarian organizations they can go to,” according to the source.
By God, if the money and weapons were dispersed by Okab in the correct manner, [Syrian president] Bashar al-Assad could have been toppled four times over.Despite the source’s boldness and the amount of information he carried, he mentioned that he was fearful of Sakr and wanted to move out of Turkey to a safe place in Syria. Following his move, he became less agitated, although he was “certain” that the Lebanese MP would try to find him.
He did not regret betraying his former patron, however, insisting that he acted out of pity for “the innocent tearful eyes.”
He spoke of several incidents where “Sakr sent my friends out to die, knowing they will definitely be killed, because he doubted them or had a disagreement.”
He mentioned the “limitless influence” of the Lebanese MP within the Turkish intelligence services and the “blind trust” accorded him by the Saudis, whom he felt they trusted more than Saad Hariri himself.
According to the source, Saudi Arabia is not the only Gulf state with whom Sakr maintained warm relations. “His relationship with the Qataris is also exemplary, despite the fierce competition with the Saudis,” the source said.
He also confirmed that Sakr had been spending most of his time in Turkey “to follow up the Syrian revolution minute by minute” for the past several months. He left to Belgium for a short period of time, following disagreements between the Turks and the Saudis. He remained for two months and returned, but has been slightly less active since.
The source revealed that Sakr held regular meetings with field commanders in the presence of Turkish, Qatari, and Saudi intelligence officers. The MP designated his personal friend Louai al-Mokdad, spokesperson for the Higher Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), to follow up on some of his duties and refused to delegate to anyone else.
As for the picture published recently showing Sakr and Mokdad together, the source confirmed that the latter leaked it at Sakr’s directions, after receiving information that their relationship had become known.
He said that the MP was put on alert several times after receiving information about incriminating audio recordings from several media and security sources who wanted to warn him.
As for Sakr’s recent appearance from France on Future Television, the source said that the episode had been planned prior to the assassination of Lebanese security chief Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan. He said that Sakr left Turkey the same day of the interview, to give the impression that he was away from Turkey and deflect suspicion.
The recordings obtained by Al-Akhbar reveal the role of the Lebanese MP – nicknamed “Abu-Sakr” by some in the Syrian opposition – in distributing weapons shipments and supervising military operations in Syria.
In today’s installment, Al-Akhbar publishes a recording showing Sakr receiving a list of needed supplies from a field commander.
The recording will also be broadcast tonight on OTV News at 8 pm and will become available on Al-Akhbar’s website at the same time.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
First Recording: Okab Sakr Arming Syrian Rebels
Abu al-Numan (a leader of an armed group): Assalamu alaikum.
Okab Sakr: Wa alaikum assalam. Go ahead.
AN: Mr. Okab, our group is stuck and surrounded. One or two days and the region will fall. Here we are being bombed by airplanes and artillery. They are attacking from all fronts. Please help; we need weapons.
OS: Please tell me, the weapons you want, what are the quantities.
AN: We need around 300 rocket-propelled grenades and twenty launchers. And if it is possible to provide 250,000 Russian rounds [for AK47s], 300 machineguns, and some special pieces of arms.
OS: All of this, for which region do you need it exactly.
AN: Azaz, Tal Refaat, Andan, and the whole of Rif Halab [Aleppo’s countryside]. You know what is happening here. Since yesterday, they managed to enter from around three fronts from Idlib...and inside Aleppo, we have the Shabiha [government thugs].
OS: So who will receive and where will the delivery happen. How will the operation take place?
AN: Delivery, as usual, will be divided up...Abu al-Baraa will be there with the guys and the cars will take them and bring them to Aleppo. But we need to do it as fast as possible, because there’s a big need and the shelling continues. People are scattered and there’s no ammunition. The men, each one barely has one or two magazines and there’s a lot consumption. Try to get them in any way possible, God bless you. I don’t know what to say, after God, there is only you.
OS: Will you be there at the delivery?
AN: No brother, Abu al-Nour will be there with the guys and the cars. They will take them from you as usual.
Tomorrow on Al-Akhbar – Under Sakr’s Command: Military Operations Rooms Between Lebanon and Turkey
Part 2 - Hariri and Sakr Caught Red-Handed
Sakr was “furious” that day and accused the SNC of having been infiltrated by the Syrian government. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)
By: Radwan Mortada - Published November 30, 2012
The exploits of Future MP Okab Sakr have not been limited to providing arms to Syrian opposition fighters. The recordings obtained by Al-Akhbar have also shed light on his pivotal role in closely following up on military operations in Syria, even personally leading military operations rooms spread throughout Turkey and Lebanon.
The source who provided Al-Akhbar with the incriminating Hariri-Sakr phone recordings – a former associate who worked in one of Sakr’s military centers in Turkey – had one condition for releasing the rest of the recordings: “publish [what you get] to receive more.”
The first batch of recordings contained enough evidence to establish the involvement of former prime minister Saad Hariri and Future Movement MP Okab Sakr in the ongoing bloody conflict in Syria. As Al-Akhbarrevealed earlier this week, Sakr and Hariri have not only been providing weapons and logistical support to the armed Syrian opposition; they have also been directing military operations remotely, and allegedly using the Syrian civil war to pursue their own interests with little or no thought for the collateral damage.
While the source confirmed that he remains in the Syrian opposition camp “fighting against the oppressive regime,” he said, “I am now wanted by both sides,” referring to both the regime and the opposition.
The source backed up his claims of association with Sakr by providingAl-Akhbar with private photos of the Future MP taken in several locations, and spoke in detail about events he witnessed over the span of more than a year working with Sakr in the so-called “revolutionary operations rooms” in Turkey.
The source explained the nature of these rooms, and the kind of people who are often present there or who oversee them, pointing out that leaders from the armed Syrian opposition meet periodically there with Sakr, as well as with representatives from Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.
The representatives, according to the source, often provide input and sometimes even instructions and general guidance. For example, a representative could weigh in on the need to deliver the appropriate type of ammunition to a certain location, especially since many mistakes have been made in this regard.
On one occasion, for example, ammunition for Russian-made “Val” assault rifles was sent to combatants who were only equipped with Kalashnikov rifles. For this reason, shipments were double-checked to ensure that the right consignment went to the right place, and that the ammunition dispatched matched the weapons sent previously.
Later on, instructions were given to rig supply trucks transporting weapons with explosives that can be detonated in the event they are captured or ambushed. The strict measures in place include disciplining anyone responsible for losing a single bullet or shell.
The source then revealed the presence of operations rooms in Lebanon as well, which he said were “actively involved in the Syrian revolution” and are directly linked to Turkey. He added that six Syrians, in addition to a number of Lebanese, run one such room in north Lebanon.
Syrian leaders who come to Lebanon, the source said, are usually received at a villa in the Mount Lebanon area of Faqra. On one of his visits to Lebanon, along with other young men, the source stayed at the villa in question. They all received cash payments, and, according to the source, it was common to say that one was “going to or coming back from Faqra” each time they were going to get paid a large sum.
Whenever [Sakr] got angry with anyone, he would send them to a combat battalion in the front lines, whether in Homs or Aleppo.He pointed out that a retired Lebanese officer who had visited Turkey on a number of occasions is in charge of running this office. This same officer would often contact the operations room in Turkey to inquire about arms shipments dispatched to certain areas in Syria. Furthermore, the source maintained, MP Sakr “instructed us” to do whatever this officer asked.
For wire transfers, the source told Al-Akhbar, MP Sakr uses S., a money transfer company that conducts most of its transactions in an illegal manner and therefore cannot be tracked.
Concerning Sakr’s ties to the Lutfallah II, a ship seized in north Lebanon carrying weapons from Libya, the source confirmed that members from the Syrian National Council (SNC) were involved in the smuggling in agreement with Libyan figures and Colonel Malik al-Kurdi.
He denied any involvement by Sakr or the retired officer mentioned above, however, and said that Sakr was “furious” that day and accused the SNC of having been infiltrated by the Syrian government.
The source also distinguished between the head of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces Information Branch, the late Wissam al-Hassan, and Sakr, over the manner in which each man treated others.
Hassan, he said, “gave so much to the revolution,” and “often intervened to help and release those who were arrested for smuggling weapons.”
Hassan sometimes also met with Syrians who were sent to Lebanon, according to the source, and had a role in smuggling out the French journalists who were trapped in Homs.
Sakr, meanwhile, dealt vindictively with those around him, said the source.
“Whenever he got angry with anyone, he would send them to a combat battalion in the front lines, whether in Homs or Aleppo,” two of the most dangerous areas, he said, adding that three young men who were working with him ended up dying on these missions.
Another account he gave to Al-Akhbar involves Hussam Qaddour, also known as Abu-Fadel, a young man who acted as an arms procurement officer for rebels in Latakia. Presumably, the Lebanese MP sent Qaddour to test some rockets, “but he came back carried on a stretcher, and remains to this day in intensive care,” the source said.
What happened was that Sakr asked Abu-Fadel to bring back footage of rockets being fired in the Haffa region, “bearing in mind that Okab knew full well that the regime troops in the area had radars and guided missiles and immediately responded to the location of rocket fire,” the source insisted, accusing Sakr of “sending the young man to his death.”
The source even claimed that Sakr “withheld ambulances which usually respond within half an hour,” but on that day, he said, “it took them three hours to arrive.”
In today’s installment, Al-Akhbar has published the transcript of a phone conversation with an unidentified man who inquires about anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, in addition to requesting the delivery of machine guns, machine gun bullets, and RPG rounds.
Audio experts could not confirm the identity of the second person. While one expert affirmed it was Saad Hariri, others disagreed. The recording will be broadcast tonight on OTV News at 8 pm and will become available on Al-Akhbar’s website at the same time.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
Second Recording: We Need Advanced Weapons
Unidentified Voice: Hello.
Okab Sakr: Hello.
UV: Yes, brother.
UV: What is required, what do you need?
OS: We need machine guns, bullets, PKC [machine gun] bullets, RPG rounds, and more advanced weapons for Aleppo, the Aleppo countryside, and the Idlib region.
UV: Which areas specifically?
OS: Aleppo and the Aleppo countryside, [and] Azaz and the surrounding regions. There are areas under siege in Idlib; a number of areas are coming under intense attack at present. The order needs to be delivered as quickly as possible.
UV: Okay, but what advanced weapons specifically?
OS: I don’t know. Nothing specific. But the order basically [consists of] anti-aircraft and anti-tank [weapons], along with ordinary or light to medium weapons.
UV: Okay, Okay.
Third Recording: Sakr and Mokdad in the Operations Room
Abu Rashad (in charge of supplies in Hama and environs): Assalamu alaikum.
Louai al-Mokdad (spokesperson for the Higher Council of the Free Syrian Army): Welcome, welcome dear, wa alaikum assalam, how are you?
AR: Mr. Louai?
LM: Yes, how are you doing?
AR: How are you?
LM: [Good], may Allah bless you and protect you, what’s new at your end?
AR: Where are you people?
LM: Yes, brother, we are in a room, me and Mr. Okab and all the men are here. Tell me, how is the situation there?
AR: It’s good that Okab is near you because we are doing very badly. It is very, very urgent, more than you can imagine. [There are] fierce clashes and the shelling against us has intensified a great deal.
LM: Very well. We can all hear you in the room, and here is Mr. Okab, he can hear you too.
OS: Did your situation deteriorate more? More than yesterday and the past two days?
AR: By God, the shelling against us intensified a lot [as well as] the clashes. The situation is very urgent. We urgently need help.
OS: Ok, where are you, in Hama? In Idlib?
AR: Hama and Idlib.
OS: Do you need us to increase the quantities? You mean the quantities we sent are not sufficient?
AR: Yes, yes, increase the quantities.
LM (speaking to OS in the room): What do you think, should we increase the quantities?
OS: No, no, let’s [definitely] increase the quantities.
OS (to AR): I, Abu Rashad, have received many reports from inside from a number of the men, all saying the same thing, that the [intensity] of the situation will increase. Now I will instruct the men to increase the quantities by as much as possible, because I am aware of the situation you are in – you are heavily compromised.
LM: I will put you immediately on the lists. Now, immediately, the men will put you on the lists. Don’t worry.
Tomorrow on Al-Akhbar: All the bullets are at your disposal, Mr. MP.
Related Article: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/okab-sakr-lebanese-parliamentarian-representing-syria%E2%80%99s-war