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June 17, 2021 11:29 am
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New Report Exposes Shadowy Network of Hezbollah’s ‘Weapons Point Man’

avatar by Yaakov Lappin

Opinion

Iraqi Shiite Muslim men from the Iran-backed group Kataib Hezbollah march in a Quds Day parade, in Baghdad, July 25, 2014. Photo: Reuters / Thaier al-Sudani.

A Lebanese businessman with reportedly close ties to Hezbollah’s weapons procurement network has established new “business shields” to disguise his activity, a new report released on Tuesday by the Israel-based Alma Research and Education Center watchdog finds.

The report focuses on Ali Abd Al Nur Shalan (nicknamed Mouyas’ar).

“Shalan is multi-skilled in buying and transporting weapons and chemical compounds. He has been doing this for many years,” former IDF intelligence officer Maj. (res.) Tal Beeri, who heads Alma’s research department, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). Shalan also plays other key roles that serve Hezbollah.

“Shalan is a Lebanese businessman whose business is carried out mainly in Syria, and has close ties to senior Hezbollah figures,” the report said. Thanks to his longstanding experience in acquiring weapons for both Hezbollah and the Assad regime, Shalan played a central role in Hezbollah’s weapons acquisition program during the Syrian civil war, working under directives provided by the Iranian overseas Quds Force, Beeri said. “He is therefore considered a key facilitator for Hezbollah’s weapons smuggling networks, and the organization’s main point man when it comes to purchasing and transporting weapons and explosives.”

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The US Treasury Department sanctioned Shalan in 2015, describing him as “Hezbollah’s point person” for obtaining weapons and ensuring they get to the terrorist group and to “Hezbollah personnel in Syria.”

Shalan’s ability to disguise weapons production facilities in civilian factories, his trafficking network, and his ability to keep coming up with new ways to evade sanctions, appear to have made him a very important component of the Hezbollah arms network.

“During our work, we discovered that in January 2021, he set up alternative business shields,” Beeri said. “We do not know of sanctions on these companies.”

Shalan’s company partnered with other businessmen and companies to establish two companies, Techno Cooper and Kopteck, that manufacture and trade in electrical cables.

The companies “were formed to continue to circumvent the sanctions,” Alma’s report said. “The ‘business activity’ of the radical Shi’ite axis led by Iran continues under the cover of business shields.”

Precision missile parts in Syria

According to Beeri, Shalan is also linked to a site in the Syrian town of Hassia, south of Homs, which produced precision guided missile components.

According to international media reports, the Homs area has repeatedly been struck by Israeli Air Force bombings, including a reported June 8 strike, presumably targeting attempts by Iran to entrench itself militarily in the area.

The same suspected missile production site at Hassia was bombed in November 2017. “From what we managed to collect, there has been very intensive Iranian activities there, in terms of precision guided missile production,” Beeri said. “There was a factory that created precise missile parts, embedded in a civilian copper and metal factory — which was owned by Shalan.”

“The factory illustrates the use of civilian shields to make weapons, and the use of business shields — all at the same time.”

“Circumstantial” link to Beirut blast

The Alma report has also linked Shalan’s activities to the devastating August 2020 Beirut port blast, when a storage facility housing ammonium nitrate exploded, killing at least 190 people, and causing widespread damage throughout the Lebanese capital.

In the months prior to the blast, international companies linked to the supply of ammonium nitrate began working with the Assad regime and Hezbollah, said Beeri, sending ammonium nitrate to Beirut’s port, which later blew up.

“We found circumstantial indications that the ammonium nitrate was designated for the Assad regime, which was looking to circumvent US and European Union oil and trade sanctions, banning the import of explosive material. One highly likely way that the Assad regime bypassed this was by using Hezbollah’s procurement system via Shalan.”

“In order for the shipments to eventually reach the Syrian regime, the suppliers sent them to the port of Beirut addressed to Hezbollah shell companies that consistently changed their identity,” the Alma report said. “After that, Hezbollah made sure to deliver, or rather smuggle, the shipments directly into Syria.”

A long history of supplying Hezbollah

The Treasury Department’s sanction statement dates Shalan’s role in helping Hezbollah obtain weapons and equipment, and in shipping the materiel to Syria, back to 2009-10. “In 2010, Shalan was at the center of brokering a business deal involving Hezbollah, Syrian officials, and companies in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine regarding the purchase and sale of weapons. Further in 2010, he acquired a number of tons of anhydride, used in the production of explosives and narcotics, for use by Hezbollah. In November 2009, Shalan coordinated with Hezbollah and Syrian officials on the purchase and delivery of thousands of rifles to Syria,” it stated.

The Treasury Department also identified companies that Shalan set up, such as Orient Star, and three of the business shields set up to enable his activities, and placed them under sanctions.

According to Alma’s report, Shalan co-founded and owns 99 percent of Orient Star company, founded in 2016 — one year after Shalan was hit with American sanctions. Orient Start’s headquarters are located on the outskirts of Damascus. The remaining 1 percent belongs to a man named Faras Nazar Sanduuk, who Alma describes as a founding partner in three other companies — but holding just a 1 percent stake in each.

Those three companies are under American sanctions and are controlled by Muhammad Qassem al-Bazal, a Lebanese national who is also under sanctions, and “a collaborator with Hezbollah and Iran facilitating the importing of fuel,” the Alma report noted.

Ultimately, said Beeri, the Iranian Quds Forces “knows that when it says, ‘I need these weapons moved to this location,’ Shalan will enable this. He can set up the sites in a civilian area, give them code names, and implement the plan.” And that makes him both dangerous and destructive.

IPT Senior Fellow Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.

A version of this article was originally published by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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