Arms smugglers thrive on Syrian uprising

Fri Nov 25, 2011 3:39pm EST
 
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By Afif Diab

BAALBEK, Lebanon (Reuters) - Weapons dealer Abu Wael has traded guns in Lebanon's Bekaa valley since the last days of his country's civil war, nearly a quarter of a century ago.

This has been his busiest year ever.

Unrest in neighboring Syria has sent demand for weapons soaring, doubling prices for Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons and helping supply the increasingly well armed insurrection challenging President Bashar al-Assad.

In the first six months of the protests, Abu Wael sold 2,000 Kalashnikovs and M16 rifles, the highest turnover of his long years in an underground arms business that has operated for decades across porous Middle East borders.

Prices for Kalashnikovs have risen 75 percent to as much as $2,000 each, while M16s doubled to $2,500, reflecting the surge in demand for arms. The biggest jump was in the price of rocket-propelled grenades, which together with a launcher now cost $2,500 compared with $400 before, when demand was minimal.

"I buy weapons from Lebanese people and sell them to traders who in turn pass them on to Syrian merchants," said 63-year-old Abu Wael, who declined to give his full name.

He spoke to Reuters with his face covered by an Arab keffiyeh headdress, clutching one of his rifles. He said he deliberately dressed in the scruffy clothes of a Bekaa farmer to avoid attracting attention, never spoke by telephone, and declined to be identified by his full name.

"There is an organized network between Lebanon and Syria dealing with the purchase and sale of weapons of various kinds, especially rifles," he said.   Continued...

 
<p>Weapons dealer Abu Wael, covering his face with an Arab keffiyeh headdress and clutching one of his rifles, speaks with Reuters, in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, November 21, 2011. REUTERS/Afif Diab</p>