Weapons for the IS

RIYADH/WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Own report) - As the findings of the UK-based organization "Conflict Armament Research" (CAR) confirms, the IS had disposed of a significant amount of firearms and ammunition from EU arsenals to defend itself in Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul against the Anti-IS-Coalition. According to this research, two of Germany's most important arms customers - the United States and Saudi Arabia - had acquired military hardware from Romania and Bulgaria to provide it to insurgent militias in Syria, which had transferred some of it to the IS. For example, anti-tank missiles were re-exported to Syria without the knowledge or approval of the original suppliers. The Free Syrian Police, which had been co-financed by the German Foreign Ministry, has also supplied jihadis. It employs police officers selected from al Qaeda's Syrian subsidiary. In at least one case, these officers had facilitated the stoning execution of two women.

From the EU to the IS

Last week, the UK-based Conflict Armament Research (CAR) presented a detailed report on the origins of the large amount of weapons the IS had had at its disposal - and most likely, are still in the hands of its fragmented remnants, today. In more than three years of its field investigation - assisted by former owners and manufacturers - CAR has documented more than 40,000 weapons and ammunition recovered in Syria and Iraq, tracing them from their producers to the IS. The researchers note that IS - like most "non-state armed groups" - captured a certain amount of their weaponry "on the battlefield." They also plundered army depots, most notably in Iraq, especially in the early stages of taking Mosul, in June 2014. CAR furnishes proof that IS was able to acquire weapons originating from the arsenals of EU armed forces or weapons manufactured by companies in the EU - particularly Romanian and Bulgarian arms, first sold to the United States and Saudi Arabia - in many cases after the war began in Syria.[1]

Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul

CAR can furnish proof that in individual cases, firearms, rockets and ammunition from Romania and Bulgaria have been delivered from the United States and Saudi Arabia to insurgent militias in Syria, for example, to the Jaysh al Nasr militia, which is assigned to the western-backed Free Syrian Army. Weapons from the same shipment were also very soon found among IS stocks. CAR uses the example of a rocket launcher, captured from the IS by Iraqi police following the battle for Ramadi (November 25, 2015 - February 9, 2016). It had originated from the same production line, as another found in the possession of Jaysh al Nasr. Bulgaria had sold them to the Pentagon, December 12, 2015 - during the battle for Ramadi. Within weeks, they had made their way to the IS in Ramadi, possibly via Jaysh al Nasr. A whole series of anti-tank missiles that had been captured from the IS after the battle for Fallujah (May 22 - June 28, 2016) had originally been sold by Bulgaria to Saudi Arabia in late 2014. The IS had been holding other missiles of this series in reserve during the battle for Mosul.

A known Dynamic

The CAR study shows that critics had been right, who repeatedly warned that arming the Syrian militias would sooner or later benefit the jihadi combat units. CAR explicitly points out that the pattern developed during the war in Afghanistan during the 1980s is well known. It was the US - often brokered by Saudi Arabia - who furnished the Afghan insurgents with weapons, which ultimately wound up in the hands of the jihadis. The "dynamic" observed in Syria, is therefore nothing new, recalls CAR. Similar cases are, in fact, known from other contexts. One example was the "Free Syrian Police."

Money for Jihadis

The Free Syrian Police is a supposedly for the most part unarmed police force of allegedly 3,300, who were to maintain order in the insurgent controlled Aleppo, Idlib, and Daraa provinces. It had been financed by several European countries - including the Federal Republic of Germany. Germany's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims to be supporting an "unarmed police (...), accountable to civil society."[2] A BBC documentary has recently exposed that the Free Syrian Police had not only been pocketing the salaries of their dead or non-existent police officers - which often happens in similar circumstances - but they had even occasionally done some of the jihadis' legwork, including for the Al Qaeda Syrian subsidiary. For example, the police officers were forced to turn over their pay to the Nur al Din al Zinki jihadi militia. In at least two police districts, Al Nusra, the Al Qaida subsidiary, could select the police personnel. The Free Syrian Police also cooperated with Shari'a courts, which were often under Al Nusra's control. In at least one case, the police force had closed the road so that the execution of two women by stoning could take place.[3] The Minister of Foreign Affairs declared that the financing of the Free Syrian Police had been discontinued in August 2017. The British government and that of the Netherlands have now followed suit. Nevertheless, jihadis - including Al Qaeda - have greatly profited from that support supposedly provided civil society structures.

Illegal Re-Exports

The CAR study points out a second aspect of their investigation. Romania and Bulgaria explicitly exported the weapons - that ultimately wound up in the hands of the IS - to the United States and Saudi Arabia, for these countries' own use. The re-export to insurgent militias in Syria had been done without the required permission - and therefore, in blatant violation of prevailing arms export regulations. Washington and Riyadh are also among German arms producers' most important customers. The fact that they disregard the interdiction to resell combat material without the explicit permission of the manufacturer - and then directly into a shooting war - is now well documented. In 2015, Berlin had approved the delivery of large quantities of ammunition to Saudi Arabia. Their whereabouts today are uncertain.

Independent - Thanks to Rheinmetall

However, these reflections will have little importance in the future. Saudi Arabia opened its own ammunition plant in March 2016, which was constructed and - according to media reports - still being serviced by the Rheinmetall company's South African subsidiary, Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM).[4] This liberates Riyadh not only from its dependency on Berlin's permits for delivery, but also those for re-sale.


[1] All quotations: Conflict Armament Research: Weapons of the Islamic State. A three-year investigation in Iraq and Syria. London, December 2017.

[2] Karin Leukefeld: Steuerfinanzierte Islamisten. junge Welt 11.12.2017.

[3] UK foreign aid money 'diverted to extremists' in Syria. bbc.co.uk 04.12.2017.

[4] See also Armed with German Help.