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 Weapons for Syrian rebels sold on Jordan’s black market

CIA plan to arm Syrian rebels undermined by theft of weapons by Jordanian intelligence agents, officials say.

Ali Younes & Mark Mazzetti read it at Al Jazeera.com

  • Theft involves millions of dollars of arms, including Kalashnikovs and mortars
  • Stolen weapons likely used in shooting that killed five at police training facility in Amman
  • Officials say senior intelligence officers had knowledge of the weapons scheme

Amman, Jordan – Weapons shipped into Jordan by the Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia intended for Syrian rebels have been systematically stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold to arms merchants on the black market, according to American and Jordanian officials.

Some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting in November that killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman, FBI officials believe after months of investigating the attack, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The existence of the weapons theft, which ended only months ago after complaints by the US and Saudi governments, is being reported for the first time following a joint investigation by Al Jazeera and The New York Times.

The theft, involving millions of dollars of weapons, highlights the messy, unplanned consequences of programmes to arm and train rebels – the kind of programme the CIA and Pentagon have conducted for decades – even after the Obama administration had hoped to keep the training programme in Jordan under tight control.

The Jordanian officers who were part of the scheme reaped a windfall from the weapons sales, using the money to buy expensive SUVs, iPhones and other luxury items, Jordanian officials said.

The theft and resale of the arms – including Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades – have led to a flood of new weapons available on the black arms market.

Investigators do not know what became of most of them, but a disparate collection of groups, including criminal networks and rural Jordanian tribes, use the arms bazaars to build their arsenals. Weapons smugglers also buy weapons in the arms bazaars to ship outside the country.

The FBI investigation into the Amman shooting, run by the bureau’s Washington field office, is continuing.

But American and Jordanian officials said the investigators believed that the weapons that a Jordanian police captain, Anwar Abu Zaid, used to gun down two Jordanians, two American contractors and one South African had originally arrived in Jordan intended for the Syrian rebel-training programme.

The officials said this finding had come from tracing the serial numbers of the weapons.

Mohammad H al-Momani, Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs, said allegations that Jordanian intelligence officers had been involved in any weapons thefts were “absolutely incorrect”.

“Weapons of our security institutions are concretely tracked, with the highest discipline,” he said.

He called the powerful Jordanian intelligence service, known as the General Intelligence Directorate, or GID, “a world-class, reputable institution known for its professional conduct and high degree of cooperation among security agencies”. In Jordan, the head of the GID is considered the second most important man after the king.

Representatives of the CIA and FBI declined to comment.

The US State Department did not address the allegations directly, but a spokesman said that the US’ relationship with Jordan remained solid.

“The United States deeply values the long history of cooperation and friendship with Jordan,” said John Kirby, the spokesman. “We are committed to the security of Jordan and to partnering closely with Jordan to meet common security challenges.”

The training programme, which in 2013 began directly arming the rebels under the code name Timber Sycamore, is run by the CIA and several Arab intelligence services and aimed at building up forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

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