Okab Sakr: Lebanese Parliamentarian Representing in Syria’s War
By: Radwan Mortada
Published Thursday, October 18, 2012
Lebanese Future Movement MP Okab Sakr has become a key player in the Syrian crisis, coordinating arms shipments to rebels and even arranging the kidnapping of an Emirati citizen on the orders of the UAE government.
The Shia parliamentarian, whose sectarian affiliation raises many questions among radical Islamists, is nevertheless considered by many to be the most important liaison between Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the Syrian civil war.
Sakr’s latest feat, as revealed by well-placed sources within the armed Syrian opposition, involves a wealthy Emirati who recently went to Syria to take part in the uprising against the government with the Jihadi Nusra Front.
The Emirati man is reportedly a dignitary, and his government was anxious to get him back and keep the incident under wraps.
UAE officials reportedly contacted the Lebanese MP to ask for his help, and Sakr, in turn, contacted members of the Nusra Front, but to no avail. The group refused to hand over their new recruit and even succeeded in securing fake Syrian identification papers for the young man in order to conceal his identity.
When Sakr’s overtures with the Jihadis failed, he contacted a Syrian opposition leader based in Turkey who controls militant groups around Aleppo and Idlib and offered him more than $1.2 million to bring back the young Emirati Jihadi.
The Syrian rebel leader raised the issue with leaders from the Nusra Front, with whom he communicates regularly given the fact that his group and theirs often operate in the same geographical area. Nevertheless, all his attempts met with failure.
When the Syrian leader informed the Lebanese MP that his efforts had reached a dead end, Okab Sakr, the primary benefactor of the rebel leader and his group, reportedly exploded with rage. Sakr threatened to liquidate the man in Turkey unless he brought him the Emirati militant, instructing him to have the Jihadi kidnapped from the Nusra Front.
Starting a battle with the Nusra Front, widely believed to be among the strongest of the armed factions, is no simple matter. With this in mind, the Syrian rebel leader, who hails from al-Rastan, contacted a Nusra front member named Muhammad Z., otherwise known as Ameed al-Ahrar, “the Dean of the Free.” Muhammad knew the whereabouts of the Emirati Jihadi, and the two men agreed to kidnap him.
Al-Akhbar tried to contact Sakr, but his Belgian phone number could not be reached at all times.
Reports indicate that Sakr had also mediated in several other incidents. In addition to having inside information on the abduction of the eleven Lebanese pilgrims and the negotiations over their release, Sakr played a major role in securing the release of journalist Youmna Fawwaz, who was abducted in Syria while working on a report about Syrian opposition fighters.
Sakr was also involved in the Iranian hostage crisis in Syria. Sources in the opposition told Al-Akhbar that the Lebanese MP contacted the Baraa Batallion, which was behind the Iranians’ kidnapping, to confirm reports that a number of the Iranians allegedly belonged to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
One of the leaders of this battalion quoted another leader as having told Sakr at the time, “Aren’t you Shia like them?” to which Sakr replied, “I am a Lebanese Shia, but they are Persian Shia.”
It is worth recalling that Sakr has in recent weeks become the star of the “Syrian revolution” in the Western press. For instance, Time Magazine mentioned that “Saudi Arabia’s man in the Istanbul control center [which coordinates efforts with the Free Syrian Army] is a Lebanese politician named Okab Sakr. He belongs to the Future Movement, […], which has a history of enmity with [the ruling regime in] Damascus.”
Time also reported that “the Lebanese politician was there overseeing the distribution of batches of supplies to at least four different FSA groups,” and that he was present in Turkey.
The New York Times quoted Syrian armed groups along the Syria-Turkey border as saying that “Riyadh's main supplier of weapons was Lebanese Member of Parliament Okab Sakr.”
A Syrian rebel leader reportedly told the Times that Sakr “[asked] rebels for the name and contacts of a weapons dealer from the former Yugoslavia that he was hoping to meet.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.