Are Russian engineers working at an ISIS-controlled gas facility?

Tuweinan SyriaSyrian and American media are reporting that Russian engineers, employed by a Moscow-based contractor with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, are working at a Syrian gas plant under the control of the Islamic State. The facility in question is the so-called Tuweinan gas plant, which is located in central Syria, approximately 60 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of the city of Raqqa. The Islamic State declared Raqqa its capital shortly after occupying it, in June 2013, and the city has since served as the militant group’s administrative headquarters. The nearby Tuweinan gas plant is believed to be the largest of its kind in Syria. In 2013, it was occupied by an alliance of factions operating under the banner of the Al-Nusra Front, the primary al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. But in early 2014, Islamic State forces took control of the plant following a military offensive against Al-Nusra.

The plant was built by Russian construction company Stroytransgaz, which was awarded the contract in 2007 by the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. It is important to note that Stroytransgaz is owned by Gennady Timchenko, a Russian oligarch who is believed to have close ties to President Putin. Following Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, the United States Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on the construction company, accusing it of having “direct links” with the inner circle of the Russian government. Since that time, a subcontractor of Stroytransgaz, known as Hesco, which is owned by George Haswani, a Russian national of Syrian descent, has been employed by the parent company to help in the completion of the Tuweinan plant. Haswani, who holds dual Russian and Syrian nationality, was recently singled out by the US Tresury for allegedly “brokering the transfer of oil” between the Assad regime in Damascus and the Islamic State.

In October 2014, the anti-Islamic State website Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported that a group of Russian engineers employed by Stroytransgaz subcontractor Hesco had been given permission by the Islamic State to continue working at the plant. On Tuesday, US-based review Foreign Policy said it had spoken to “Turkish officials and Syrian rebels”, who claimed that the Russian engineers were still at the Tuweinan plant. The sources told Foreign Policy that the Russian engineers had been tasked with completing the construction of the facility, as promised in 2007, but this time with the permission of the Islamic State. The latter needs the plant to remain operational. Both Stroytransgaz and Hesco have denied the allegations. The Russian government has not commented on the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 February 2016 | Permalink

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