Revealed: How Iran supplies militant bomb factories in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain

The scene of a bomb blast that killed a man in a Bahraini village in 2014. A new report shows the weapons have become increasingly sophisticated. (AFP/File photo)
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Updated 18 December 2019

Revealed: How Iran supplies militant bomb factories in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain

  • Weapons-smuggling investigators find links in seized components
  • Tehran regime spreads explosives expertise into eastern part of Kingdom

LONDON: Bomb parts seized by security forces in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain match explosives supplied by Iran to Houthi militias in Yemen, a new report reveals.

The electrical components for improvised explosive devices (IED) were also identical to those seized from a ship off the coast of Yemen in 2013, according to Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an organization that tracks smuggled weapons.

The cargo vessel was laden with missiles, rockets and ammunition when it was intercepted by US and Yemeni forces after leaving Iranian waters. UN experts said the regime in Tehran was behind the shipment.

The link raises concerns that Iran-backed militant groups have tried to spread bomb-making expertise into eastern Saudi Arabia from cells in Bahrain, CAR said.

 

 

“There is some evidence to suggest that the increasing domestic capacity of militant factions to manufacture homemade explosives — and IED more broadly — may extend from Bahrain to nearby regions of Saudi Arabia,” it said.

CAR researchers studied IED parts captured from militant groups between 2013 and 2018 in Bahrain, where security forces have been targeted by insurgents.

They also recorded details from components seized in a raid in Awamiyah in eastern Saudi Arabia in April 2017, where militants clashed with security forces for several months.

Another seizure also took place on a bus on the King Fahd causeway that links Bahrain and Saudi Arabia




IEDs and plastic explosives recovered from militant cells in Bahrain in 2017 and 2018. (CAR)

Components from the seizures, including infrared sensors, and radio-controls “are identical or similar” to components documented in Yemen after their capture from Houthi forces and to those found on the cargo ship in 2013, the report said.

“The components either originated in Iran or are linked to Iranian-backed supply networks in the region.”

Iran supports and supplies the Houthis with weapons and has been accused of supporting militant Shiite cells in Bahrain. Arab countries blame Tehran for destabilizing the Middle East with its support of proxy forces, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and armed factions in Iraq.

In Bahrain, the level of sophistication for IED increased dramatically after 2013, when security forces started to intercept ships carrying readymade bomb components among supplies of conventional weapons. The bombs have killed at least 14 security force members and injured dozens in Bahrain since 2013. Before that, crude devices had been used amid protests and rioting in 2011.




Components for making bombs seized in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were studied by experts and found to match those supplied by Iran to Yemen.  (CAR)

The report found that the militants stored the explosive and non-explosive components at separate locations and delayed assembly until close to the time of use.

This “implies that militant factions use relatively sophisticated tactics, techniques, and procedures” and “centralize the construction of non-explosive components in preparation for onward distribution.”

Researchers also found information that usually helps identify components, such as circuit boards, had been systematically removed. The only other place they had seen this carried out to such an extent was in Yemen, among components seized from the Houthis.

“It’s striking that those involved in the supply chain chose to obliterate identifying information and serial numbers of RCIED circuit boards, at a rate much higher than found in CAR’s data set from investigations in Iraq and Syria,” CAR executive director James Bevan said. “It indicates a concerted effort among parties to the illicit supply chain to conceal the origins of materiel and prevent investigations like ours from tracing supply routes.”

*Read the full report from Conflict Armament Research here 


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”