Syrian war profiteer linked to mysterious pro-Russian security firm

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The following is an English-language version of Levant Network research prepared for Akhbar Alaan.

Syrian businessman Khodr Ali Taher, who was sanctioned by the EU for war profiteering, is linked to a mysterious pro-Russian security firm, according investigation by Levant Networks prepared for Akhbar Alaan.

One of Taher’s business partners, Nasser Dib, owns 50 percent of the Sanad Guards and Security Services company, according to the Al-Iqtisadi business journal. 

Sanad Guards and Security Services had almost no public profile until this spring, when Omran Center for Strategic Studies researcher Ayman Aldassouky discovered the company’s presence at an office for a regime military unit.

Dib and Taher went into business together in 2018, establishing the Syrian Company for Metals and Investment based in Damascus. Dib does not appear to have prior business experience in the security or metals sectors. 

Before forming the two companies, Dib worked as a managing director of the Al-Riyadiya sports magazine), according to social media data and business records reviewed by Akhbar Alaan. Meanwhile, the other owner for Sanad Guards and Security Services, Ahmad Khalil, does not have a public presence as a businessman.

Nasser Dib in his capacity as Al-Riyadiya’s managing director. (Facebook/صحيفة الرياضية)

Taher, for his part, has made a number of investments since 2017, including the formation of a private security firm named Castle Security and Protection.

The EU blacklisted Taher in February, saying he supports and benefits from the Syrian regime through “his involvement in smuggling and profiteering activities.” Taher reportedly serves as a frontman for Maher al-Assad and the economic activities of the Syrian Army’s 4th Division.

While Sanad Guards and Security Services has remained hidden from the public, a recent series of social media activity offers clues to its activities. 

On April 23, a Facebook account for the Sanad Forces posted a picture of its commander General Reslan Esber standing in front of a banner for the Sanad Guards and Security Services.

General Ruslan Esber posing in front of a Sanad Guards and Security Services firm logo. (Facebook/قوات سند الأمن العسكري البادية السورية)

Days earlier the same Facebook page posted a photo of the company’s banner, which features the images of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad. 

The Sanad Forces’ friendly relations with Russia were demonstrated in early 2020. At the time, the Russian Armed Forces presented Esber a certificate of appreciation for his service as the leader of the Sanad Forces, according to a photo posted by a Facebook page from his hometown outside Tartous. 

The nature of the relationship between the similarly named Sanad Forces and Sanad Guards and Security Services remains shrouded in mystery. The Sanad Forces’ banner, which also features Assad and Putin, says they are a unit affiliated with Syria’s Military Intelligence Directorate.

Omran Center researcher Ayman Aldassouky told Akhbar Alaan that he believes the Sanad Forces relationship with Syrian Military Intelligence was a complex one, adding that the group appears to work under supervision of the intelligence service.

Aldassouky also said that the Sanad Forces serves as an example of how Syrian intelligence agencies are becoming an active part of the private security service market in the country.

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