Syrian businessmen linked to firm that bought Beirut explosives

Three Syrian businessmen with close ties to the Syrian government have been linked to the company that bought the explosive material that entered Beirut’s port in 2013 and fuelled a massive explosion in August that devastated parts of the Lebanese capital.

The Syrian businessmen, George Haswani and brothers Imad and Mudalal Khuri, are also Russian citizens, according to UK government website Companies House and media reports.Open-source information on the UK website – first aired by Lebanese documentary filmmaker Firas Hatoum on local news channel Al Jadeed on Tuesday – shows that companies formerly directed by Haswani and Imad Khuri have the same stated addresses as Savaro Limited, the company that purchased 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate in July 2013, four months before it entered Beirut’s port.

Savaro also lists as a “secretary”, or board member tasked with ensuring the smooth running of the company, a firm that provided the same service to a company directed by Imad Khuri – establishing a further link between the businessmen and the company that procured the ammonium nitrate.

All three men have been sanctioned by the United States for allegedly aiding and providing services to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They could not be contacted for comment.

In a November 2015 statement announcing sanctions on Mudalal Khuri, the US Treasury said he had, among other things, served as an intermediary for al-Assad’s government “on an attempted procurement of ammonium nitrate in late 2013” – the same period when the ammonium nitrate entered Beirut.

Imad Khuri was sanctioned in July 2016 for providing support to his brother’s activities.

The new information raises questions about whether the Syrian government had sought to procure the powerful explosives for use in Syria during the height of the country’s war.

Al-Assad’s government had been accused by the International Network on Explosive Weapons of using ammonium nitrate in the production of crude weapons such as so-called barrel bombs during the same period.

Multiple reports have suggested that large quantities of the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate did not explode after being stored in a port hangar in 2014 and may have been removed previously, though some experts have said the size of the blast was consistent with the full amount being present.

The August 4 explosion killed at least 200 people, wounded more than 600 and destroyed wide swaths of Beirut.

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