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Albania, Hezbollah and the labyrinth of international illegal arms trafficking
12.7.2010 by HoisseBig.

By Ioannis Michaletos

The Balkan region has a colorful recent history regarding the existence of Jihadist and terrorist networks that are directly related to the ones in the Middle East.
The issue has gathered importance in the beginning of 2010 when the Israeli foreign minister, made explicit remarks on the issue, whilst an interesting aspect has emerged through many information channels that relates to the existence of direct Hezbollah ties in the Balkans and most specifically in Albania. At a meeting with FYROM’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in January, the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Balkan states were the new target of global jihad. “Current reports clearly indicate that the region of the Balkans is the new target of global jihad, which intends to establish infrastructure and recruit activists there,” Lieberman said. “That is seen from the attempts of certain Islamists, in particular Saudi organizations that are transferring their funds to Africa and South America in order to bring them to the regions inhabited by Bosnians and Albanians,” he added.

Lieberman said that the Hezbollah group, which is backed by Iran, had penetrated South America and Al-Qa’idah and was well established in Africa. He called on Gruefski not to allow those militants to strike roots in the Balkans. After this statement there came the first reaction from the Bosnian Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj, who phoned his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman to protest against his statement. The Bosnian minister told his Israeli counterpart that statements of this kind were baseless and that they harmed his country’s international reputation. He added that Bosnia was engaged in a struggle against terrorism and that its intelligence services had no information or data about terrorists being active in their country. For its part, the Albanian side has not reacted to this statement yet.

As the Israeli minister stated, the Hezbollah is channeling money for the establishment of terrorist cells in Albanian-inhabited areas. From what it seems this argument was well-established and in fact it has a long history behind it. The previous years there were quite a few reports in the Albanian media that Ukrainian anti-missile systems were bought by Albania and then illegally re-exported to Hezbollah, via several front companies. Under the guise of the Albanian Army’s modernization and the enhancement of its defense capability, former Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu and some officials of his ministry asked for the procurement of Igla-1 (SA-16-GIMLET) and Igla-2 (SA-18-GROUZE) land-to-air rockets. These were Soviet-patented rockets of the end of the 1980s, which had also been typed out by other countries. Igla, with capabilities similar to those of the US Stinger rockets, is very effective against planes, helicopters, and UAV drones flying up to a 5,000-foot altitude. The history of the procurement of these rockets starts in the 2006 spring and also later after a series of feverish efforts to find potential buyers for these rockets. Among the states formally contacted by Albanian officials there are also such ones that pose a potential terrorist threat such as Iran and North Korea. On 19.04.2006, Mr Rrahmani, marketing manager of the Iranian state firm MODELEX, is requested to procure Iranian SAM rockets of the MISAGH type-2. These rockets, however, are inferior to Igla-18, so they do not carry much favor with the Lebanese Hezbollah. On 08.06.2006, contacts are established with the Ukrainian firm UKRSPETS EXPORT through its representative Mr. Mayevski. This firm transferred the orders to its branch SE SFTF PROGRES. Between the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007, this firm sold the Albanian state 150 Igla-1 rockets together with their launchers. The transaction was done on the condition that, in the event these rockets were to be re-exported from Albania, the Ukrainian State Enterprise for the Armaments Export would have to be informed. Soon after the procurement, the SA-16 and SA-18 rockets were hastily decommissioned from the armament of the Albanian Army. The practice carries the signatures of Prime Minister Berisha, former Minister Mediu, and Lieutenant General Hoxha. After this practice was concluded, the rockets were ready for export by the MEICO [Import-Export Company of the Defense Ministry]. The export of rockets was shrouded in mystery. They were sold to an off-shore Lebanese firm called IFC (International Contract & Enterprise) with address: Tabaris Building, Charles Malek Avenue, Beirut, tel. 0096113381888, with Mr Mawan K. Haddad as its representative. According to information made public previously by the Israeli intelligence agency, the Lebanese firm serves as front for MOUNTAMAT AL-JIHAD AL-ISLAM, which is a Hezbollah branch. According to the Israelis, this firm has been helping Hezbollah traffickers to smuggle weapons from the former Socialist countries, including Albania. Miami New Times paper notes on the issue, “Gjerg Thanasi, who broke the news for Gazeta Tema (Albanian newspaper), sent New Times copies of letters and contracts to substantiate the missile deal. Two letters — written in pidgin English — from March 2006 are addressed to the Iranian and North Korean governments. In them, Pinari, on behalf of Albania’s government, asks to buy $4 million worth of SA-16 and SA-18 shoulder-fired missiles with a 3,500-meter range”. (In the letter to Iran, he also asks for a cheap way to transport “1000 kg” Iranian explosives that seem to have already been ordered.)

Continuing, “In the documents provided by Gazeta Tema, another contract between Pinari and Marwan K. Haddad — representative of a Beirut company, International Contracting and Enterprise — suggests the Albanians shipped military product to Lebanon”.

According to Albanian journalists, in many cases, consignments from Albania went to Bosnia-Herzegovina, but countries of the Middle East and Asia were their final destination. The name of Bosnian citizen Damir Fazlic appears in all these reports, just as his links to the main players in these transactions.

Moreover, Gazette Tema newspaper in Tirana, recorded in late 2009, that about eight months before the Gerdec blast, the Albanian Defense Ministry had stepped up the flow of consignments that now turn out to have gone out of control and to have fallen into “insecure hands.” The Israeli state intelligence services have every reason to be alarmed, and reliable sources close to these services say that the Israelis have undertaken a monitoring and observing operation [Operation HAYEDID] on consignments originating from Gerdec and transited through Rinas [Tirana] Airport.

The HAYEDID codename is not accidental. In Hebrew this word means a very close friend (almost a family member) of the Israelis, but one who is not of Hebrew origin or nationality. The Gazeta Tema noted that, for some months in succession, Israeli intelligence services knew that consignments of ammunition from Gerdec were going to groups or circles that are basically the main enemies of Israel and an imminent danger to them.

Continuing, reports from Albania, documented during the summer of 2009, commented that 6,000 Katyusha missiles (107mm) were sold from the Albanian defense ministry to Iraq and Chad, nevertheless, quantities of those were found in the hands of terrorists groups in the Anbar and Nasiriyah regions in Iraq. The weaponry was exported from Albania through the company “BT” owned by the Swiss citizen Heinrich Thomet.

Early March 2008 saw the outskirts of the capital of Albania, in the Gerdec area, rocked by a series of explosions caused by the detonation of hundreds of tons of explosives that were supposed to be destroyed by a secure mode. The results were 26 people killed, approximately 300 were badly injured and perhaps as much as 5,000 were force to temporarily relocate, whilst the Tirana suburb on an alert zone for some period of time, due to the existence of more underground bunkers filled with ammunition.

It is estimated that over 100,000 tons of explosive material has to be decommissioned in Albania over the coming years and they still consist one of the major perils for the livehood of many districts. They are placed underground and scattered across the land.

Data that came to light seemed to confirm the existence of a well-formed network that exported illegally explosives and arms from Albania to various theaters across the globe and especially Afghanistan.

The interestic aspect is that this network can be estimated that operated in parallel or at least was aware of the existence of the one responsible for the Hezbollah trafficking, although no enquiry of an official nature has tried to establish those links so far.

An American company named SACI (South Carolina-based, Southern Ammunition Co. Inc), was the responsible authority for the decommissioned of the armaments, which in turn subcontracted the project to the local corporation Alba Demil.

According to various reports by the Albanian media the whole plan was to start decommissioning 10% of the whole Albanian ammunition reserve for a cost of 16 million Euros. NATO financed the project in order to ease the transformation of Albania from the archaic Warsaw Pact inventory and in light of its proposed NATO entrance in early April 2008 in the Heads of State Summit in Bucharest.

The specific work was done right aside the Tirana international airport and close to a residential area. Even though there was a prohibition against constructing houses in that region during the Communist era; the ‘90’s proved to be a season of chaotic changes in the Albanian community and quite a few of its citizens opted buying land and building their estates close to the ammunition depots.

The Albanian press has already confirmed that SACI ended its contract at early 2008, but work was progressed often abetted by unskilled workers and regardless of basic safety rules for such a dangerous effort. Balkan Insight reported that “A video shot before the explosion and broadcast on Top-Channel on Tuesday, showed children working at the depot.”

The company Alba Demil was owned 75% by the businessman Deligiorgis and 25% by a SACI subsidiary. It opened an offshore company in Cyprus called Evdin which facilitated the sale of 2 tons of ammunition from Albania to Afghanistan.

The offshore company was formed in July 2006, after a law passed by the Albanian government that allowed the arms trade by private firms and in parallel with the agreement with SACI of the decommission process. The telephone correspondence with the company directed to a person in Zenica in Bosnia, a stronghold of Wahhabism in the region. Its post correspondence lead to a street in Larnaca-Cyprus where the alleged firm is based, although a night-club stands instead of any premises resembling an office.

A further detail that adds to the whole story is the existence of the Swiss national Heinrich Thomet who is detailed as a representative for Evdin in Albania. He is also a well-known arms dealer and has often been accused by the international authorities for murky dealings in African states and the Middle East. According to local Albanian sources he was the one that made an arms deal between the state ammunition company MEICO and the Miami based AEY Corporation.

The latter secured Pentagon deals worth around 300 million USD, by reselling Eastern European arms to Afghanistan Iraq in 2006, but it was later revealed that it had falsely stated that its products originated from Hungary and not China as it was actually. That is illegal under U.S Law and FBI investigated the company.

It was revealed that the company’s legal representatives (in their 20’s), had no experience in this kind of projects and the company maintained communication with Albanian citizens and discussed the corruption in the country and explored chances of participating in future arms deals.

In Mid 2008, Kosta Trebicka the owner of the Xhoi Company in Albania that its name was implicated in the aforementioned is found dead in a small town in Eastern Albania. According to quite a few commentators the causes were not natural, although a definite assumption has yet to be discovered.

According to Reuters at that time, “Trebicka was involved in repackaging ageing Chinese ammunition that was being sold from Albania to AEY Inc, a U.S. firm contracted by the Pentagon to supply the Afghan army. He turned whistleblower after the Albanian defense ministry removed him from the contract and appointed another company in his place….Trebicka was to be the key witness in Albania’s investigation into the affair”.

The same assumptions were confirmed by the Albanian “News 24 TV”, at that period, and it was also added that Trebicka had a lot of incriminating evidence against the former defense minister Mediu regarding the illegal arms trade and including the one that relates to the Middle East, whilst he was providing these evidence to the CIA in order to uncover the magnitude of the case. Ephraim Diveroli the American, 25 year old arms dealer and president of AEY Inc, who was in regular contact with Trebicka according to their telephone exchanges for some period of time, in late August,2009 he pled guilty on one count of conspiracy and faces up to five years in prison.

Asian Times in a well-documented reportage revealed that “On December 12, 2006, the State Department made the following entry to the watch list regarding both Diveroli and AEY….The watch list also had entries for Heinrich Thomet, the president of Evdin, Ltd, a company based in Cyprus that acted as AEY’s middleman; and Ylli Pinari, the head of the state-run Military Export Import Company (MEICO), which supplied the ammunition from Albania. The reasons both Thomet and Pinari were placed on the list are classified”.

Although the whole issue of illegal arms trade and the existence of a direct link between Hezbollah’s importation of weaponry from Albania, is far from being thoroughly checked, it is highly likely, judging from all the available information, that there is a serious issue in the Balkan region and in Albania in particular that under proper examination may reveal similar cases and a wider nexus between armed groups and terrorists in the Middle East with corrupted officials and arms traffickers in the Balkans. In any case, much has been already revealed that has caused anxiety to several countries, such as Israel, that point out towards a new look under which the arms contraband can be combated and along with it the ability of terrorists to arm themselves, through the use of loopholes in the system and the assistance of weak links in several countries.

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