Why are Russian engineers working at an ISIS-controlled gas plant in Syria?

Foreign Policy reports: The Syrian government originally awarded the contract to construct the Tuweinan facility [the largest such facility in Syria, located 60 miles southwest of Raqqa] to Stroytransgaz in 2007. The construction utilized a Syrian subcontractor, Hesco, which was owned by Russian-Syrian dual national George Haswani. Last November, the Treasury Department sanctioned Haswani for allegedly brokering oil sales between the Islamic State and the Assad regime, charges he denies.

The partnership between Hesco and Stroytransgaz goes far beyond this one deal. The companies have worked in joint projects in Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and the UAE since 2000, according to Haswani’s son-in-law, Yusef Arbash, who runs Hesco’s Moscow office.

Construction continued slowly until a coalition of Syrian rebel groups seized the facility in a joint operation with the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in January 2013. Abu Khalid, a member of the Qwais al-Qarani brigade, which was a part of the rebel coalition, said that when they entered the area, Russian engineers and advisors had already fled, leaving Syrian employees behind. “We decided to protect this plant; we thought it is belonging to Syrian people since it was owned by the Syrian state,” he said.

The Islamic State has been in control of the facility since early 2014. A senior Turkish official said that after its seizure, Stroytransgaz, through its subcontractor Hesco, continued the facility’s construction with the Islamic State’s permission. He also claimed that Russian engineers have been working at the facility to complete the project.

Syrian state-run newspaper Tishreen published a report appearing to corroborate this claim. In January 2014, after the facility was captured by the Islamic State, the paper cited Syrian government sources, saying that Stroytransgaz had completed 80 percent of the project and expected to hand over the facility to the regime during the second half of the year. The article didn’t mention that the facility was under the control of the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

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