Lutfallah 2: Smugglers of The Mediterranean

Lebanese navy personnel patrol with a speed boat near the vessel "Lutfallah II" docked at the port of Selaata, north of Beirut, on 27 April 2012 after it was intercepted by the Lebanese navy. (Photo: AFP - Joseph Eid)

By: Nasser Charara

Published Thursday, May 17, 2012

The interception of the Lutfallah 2 ship laden with arms off the coast of Tripoli raised fears that northern Lebanon is becoming the main gateway for weapons smuggling to the Syrian opposition.

After the entry of the ship Lutfallah 2 into Lebanese waters and its discovery on April 28, two other warehouses full of imported weapons for the Syrian opposition were uncovered on the coast of Tripoli.

Two days later, the security forces began following and monitoring a third ship seen heading towards Lebanon’s northern coast.

A source in French intelligence blames the intensity of arms smuggling into Syria through Lebanon on the recently implemented procedures by Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq.

The three countries are making it more difficult to smuggle arms through their borders with Syria.

Therefore, activists outside Syria wanting to smuggle arms to the increasingly militarized uprising in their country are left with Lebanon’s northern coast as one of the few remaining entryways.

Multiple sources indicate that the Jordanian army command is confronting the Jordanian Islamists’ call to support the “Syrian revolution,” with the slogan of “the homeland first.”

It aims to make Jordanian national security a priority in dealing with the Syrian situation.

In this regard, the Jordanian army and security agencies came up with the idea of building a “separation wall” between the current security situation in Syria and that of Jordan.

They fear that chaos and the nascent Islamist mobilization will spill into the kingdom.

Reliable sources point out that Amman had refused a while ago a request by US intelligence to allow a private US contractor to deploy on the Jordanian-Syrian border.

They wanted to train Syrian opposition members on weapons and management and protection of refugee camps, according to the sources.

Although Egypt does not have any borders with Syria, Egyptian security agencies are attempting to secure the harbors in Port Said and Alexandria against weapons smuggling operations to Syria.

Ships had been leaving the Misrata port in Libya and heading towards Tripoli in Lebanon, using Egyptian ports for “transit.”

Information obtained by Al-Akhbar shows that the police at Alexandria’s port conducted exhaustive maritime maneuvers around the harbor, using high-speed Zodiac boats.

Informed Egyptian sources said that the decision for the military maneuvers was based on findings by the port police command following the transit of Lutfallah 2 through Alexandria.

The authorities hope the maneuvers will send a message and scare off anyone who plans to use Alexandria’s coast to smuggle arms or personnel.

The reason behind Egypt’s grave concern about incidents like Lutfallah 2 is largely due to information about a maritime smuggling route through the Mediterranean used by al-Qaeda.

The organization is exploiting internationally and regionally connected Islamic fronts considered part of the Arab popular uprisings to smuggle arms. Cairo believes that Lutfallah 2 was part of this railway.

Such a conclusion is substantiated by other sources on the circumstances behind the ship and its cargo.

The owner of the ship is called Mohammed Khafaga, a resident of Damietta, Egypt. His involvement in maritime trade developed rather quickly.

Ten years ago, he bought the German-built Lutfallah 2, whose load is 3,900 tons, from Denmark. He then bought another five ships five years ago.

The obtained information shows the reason behind his rapid wealth and sudden rise in maritime trade is due to his expertise in illegal human trafficking.

He transports them from Egypt’s ports towards Greece on various ships, including Lutfallah 2.

Once there, the trafficked persons make their way into Europe through networks of commercial mafias.

As for Khafaga’s involvement in using his ship for arms smuggling, informed sources indicate that a voyage from the port of Alexandria to Tripoli normally costs around US$20,000.

Since the ship was only carrying three containers and the regular price per container is between US$1,500 and US$2,000.

This means that the total market price he would have received for the trip to Tripoli would amount to no more than US$6,000. This raises a number of questions about khafaga’s role.

The information obtained also shows that the ship’s manifest for the trip from Misrata does not carry the seal of customs authorities.

Another basis for suspicion had to do with the cargo’s weight. The manifest says that each of the three containers on board were carrying 31 tons, which is beyond the capacity of the containers.

Even more peculiar is that the ship’s number does not appear in the insurance documents, contrary to maritime transport regulations.

The owner of the shipping company, Motaweh Omar Rima, was in Saudi Arabia when he was contacted by a group of Syrian opposition members to ask him to support the “Syrian revolution.”

Investigations point to the fact that information about the ship was obtained by an official Lebanese security agency while the weapons were being packed in Libya.

It came through a Lebanese person who said that the plan was to unload the shipment and transport it to pre-arranged secret locations in Akkar, from which it will be taken to Syria.

In the meantime, the Lebanese army had decided not to confiscate the weapons until they have been placed in their secret locations.

Nevertheless, the plan changed in the last moment when the army command decided to intercept them at sea.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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