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Syria now a gateway for drugs and mercenaries to Libya

By Sarah Vernhes
Posted on Monday, 26 April 2021 12:37

Libyan fighters in the east in 2015 (pictured). Mohamed Ben Khalifa/AP/SIPA

There have been increased flights between Syria and Libya in recent months. This travel corridor, which primarily facilitates the transport of Syrian mercenaries, is growing proof of the alignment between Russian and Emirati interests in Libya.

An aspect of the Libyan conflict that is not well known is Khalifa Haftar’s involvement in Damascus. However, when it comes to foreign interference, the connections between Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and the eastern general are quite obvious.

Since the beginning of April, the Syrian company Cham Wings has made no less than nine round trips between Damascus and Benghazi, the last of which took place on 19 April. This private airline, which is under US and EU sanctions, is owned by businessman Rami Maklhouf, Assad’s cousin. This tycoon, who has been operating in the oil, banking and construction sectors, has been in the Assad clan’s bad books since June.

Mercenaries and drugs in transit

Relations between Damascus and Latakia (on the Syrian coast) and Benghazi began in 2018. Some of these flights brought Syrian mercenaries to fight as part of General Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

It is estimated that nearly 2,000 Syrian mercenaries are currently taking part in the conflict alongside him. According to an expert on the Libyan conflict: “The recruitment of these mercenaries is led by Russia and financed in part by money paid by the United Arab Emirates, allies of Khalifa Haftar.” For its part, Ankara has recruited Syrian fighters for the Tripoli government.

But the numerous flights between the two countries could also serve as a drug trafficking network. The Syrian journalist and analyst Asaad Hanna tells us: “Syria has become the biggest centre for drugs. [The] Syrian government is using it to fund their operations…as the situation in Libya is messed up, it’s a perfect market to distribute and sell drugs there.”

In April 2020, Egyptian authorities seized four tonnes of hashish in the port of Port Said from a cargo ship bound for Libya from Latakia. It was carrying milk belonging to the Milkman company, owned by Rami Makhlouf. Assad’s cousin has denied being involved in any way.