Watan FM, one of the free media outlets that sprang up in the early days of the Syrian uprising in 2011 and which has since migrated to Turkey, reported on 17 March 2017 about the trade between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State. The article is reproduced below.
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400 Barrels of Oil Per Day: Assad’s Share of the Oil in Syria
Radio Watan FM received information, based on testimonies, that the Assad regime had signed a deal to buy crude oil and wheat from the Islamic State organization, using a middleman named Hussam al-Katerji.
The godfather of the internal trade between Assad and Daesh
A member of the so-called “People’s Assembly” of Assad, Hussam al-Katerji, heads a commercial network operating between the areas controlled by the Islamic State organization and [those areas held by] the Assad regime. Hussam al-Katerji is a powerful figure in Assad’s regime and one of the partners of famous Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf, the nephew of Bashar al-Assad.
The name of “Katerji” appeared recently in the areas controlled by the State organization after food and other commodities were detected passing from areas controlled by the Islamic State [to the Assad-ruled areas].
Daesh take delivery of oil for Homs refinery
Watan FM was able to communicate with a local source, a driver for an oil tanker from the province of Raqqa who identified himself as Abu Imad. The source said: “The State organization made a contract to deliver [access to] the Omar oil field in the province of Deir Ezzor and several high-quality oil wells in the province of Raqqa to an investor named Hussam al-Katerji for one year. In turn, al-Katerji was obliged to provide 400 oil tankers to transport the oil.”
The source pointed out that deliveries of crude oil from the areas controlled by the extremist organization to the areas controlled by Assad takes place every day or two, with nearly 400 tankers from the Omar field in Deir Ezzor, controlled by the extremists, to the Homs refinery, controlled by Assad.
Abu Imad explained that the process of transporting oil involves tankers going from al-Omar oil field in Deir Ezzor, which is under the control the Islamic State, travelling to the city of al-Tabqa, fifty kilometres west of Raqqa city, and then to Homs via the Salamiya-Raqqa Road. This road is closed to civilian traffic.
Gold for Oil
The source added that ISIS takes its payment for the oil from the Assad regime in gold, instead of in the local currency or global [currency, i.e. U.S. dollars].
When “Abu Imad” was asked if there were checkpoints or militias belonging to al-nizam [“the system”, usually translated as “the regime”] on the [Salamiya-Raqqa] Road, he said: “Among the tank drivers are people wanted by the regime, including dissident soldiers, but the regime cannot arrest them under the agreement with ISIS.”
The source added that the agreement was brokered by Hussam al-Katerji. Under the terms of the agreement, the mediator, who was the guarantor of the two groups (the regime and ISIS), pledged $500,000 to ensure that no driver will be arrested or harassed [by the Assad regime]. In the event that this is done [someone is arrested by Assad], the amount will default to ISIS.
Food and Wheat Supplies
After we verified the sale of oil between ISIS and the Assad regime, we followed up our investigation to find out if there were other commercial transactions between the two sides. We were able to access documentary information and testimonies that [showed] there are other deals for the sale of wheat and foodstuffs, and the provision of logistical support, between the regime and ISIS, and the this was done through the same mediator, Hussam al-Katerji.
Al-Katerji purchased large quantities of wheat from ISIS in the governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and Rif al-Hasaka. Radio Watan FM was able to communicate with a person named “Abu Ahmed” from the province of Raqqa and works in the trade field. He said: “Hussam al-Katerji bought large quantities of wheat from the so-called Zakat Bureau of the State Organization in the province of Raqqa, and transported wheat in trucks to regime-controlled areas in the city of Hama.”
Abu Ahmed said that ISIS seized the wheat from the farmers and traders under the name of “Zakat” [the Islamic poor tax], and the rest from silos in the city of Palmyra and silos in the areas controlled by ISIS in the eastern region.
Abu Ahmed added that Hussam al-Katerji also sent foodstuffs, supplies, and vegetables from the regime areas to the ISIS areas to sell them in the local markets. In an incident mentioned by Abu Ahmed, “Raqqa province went through a crisis of food and vegetable supplies, especially sugar. This lasted for about two months until al-Katerji brought large amounts of sugar and vegetables from the regime-held areas via the (Salamiya-Raqqa) Road, which is under ISIS’s control. These goods were sold at high prices in coordination and partnership with ISIS, which approved the introduction of these materials after receiving a percentage of sales.”
Note: The names of witnesses in this story have been changed for the safety since they are still in areas controlled by ISIS.