RAQQA/DUBAI (Reuters) – While Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was accusing the West of turning a blind eye to Islamic State smuggling, a member of his parliament was quietly doing business with the group, farmers and administrators in the militants’ former stronghold said.
The arrangement helped the Syrian government to feed areas still under its control after Islamic State took over the northeastern wheat-growing region during the six-year-old civil war, they said.
Traders - Businessman - Lawmaker - Hossam - Al-Katerji
Traders working for businessman and lawmaker Hossam al-Katerji bought wheat from farmers in Islamic State areas and transported it to Damascus, allowing the group to take a cut, five farmers and two administrators in Raqqa province told Reuters.
Katerji’s office manager, Mohammed Kassab, confirmed that Katerji Group was providing Syrian government territories with wheat from the northeast of Syria through Islamic State territory but denied any contact with Islamic State. It is not clear how much Assad knew of the wheat trading.
Cooperation - Wheat - Figure - Syria - Establishment
Cooperation over wheat between a figure from Syria’s establishment, which is backed by Shi’ite power Iran, and the hardline Sunni Islamic State would mark a new ironic twist in a war that has deepened regional Sunni-Shi’ite divisions.
Reuters contacted Katerji’s office six times to request comment but was not given access to him.
Office - Manager - Kassab - Company - Wheat
His office manager Kassab, asked how the company managed to buy and transport the wheat without any contact with Islamic State, said: “It was not easy, the situation was very difficult.” When asked for details he said only that it was a long explanation. He did not return further calls or messages.
Damascus, under U.S. and EU sanctions over the conflict and alleged oil trading with Islamic State, strongly denies any business links with the hardline Islamist militants, arguing that the United States is responsible for their rise to power.
Caliphate - Parts - Syria
The self-declared caliphate they set up across large parts of Syria and...
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