Exclusive: Inside Future Movement's Syria Arms Trade
By: Radwan Mortada
Published Thursday, 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.
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.
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