In the ever-evolving tapestry of Syria’s conflict, a new figure has emerged on the scene, capturing attention and intrigue. “Khader Ali Taher,” widely recognized as “Abu Ali Khodr,” has rapidly ascended the ranks of influence and power in the war-torn nation. His association with Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad, has become a linchpin of his authority.
Economic Sway and Imposing Sanctions
The name “Abu Ali Khodr” resounded across Damascus as smartphone merchants confronted stark threats compelling them to exclusively source their merchandise from the “Ematel” company. Strikingly, these threats carried the weight of device confiscation and were interwoven with the burgeoning influence of Abu Ali Khodr.
The United States swiftly included “Abu Ali Khodr” on its list of sanctioned individuals under the Caesar Act, identifying him as a vital regime ally actively contributing to the suppression of opposition forces. His meteoric rise to economic prominence has baffled many, considering his absence from the roster of the regime’s affluent supporters just a few years prior.
Origins and Nexus of Authority
Born as Khader Taher Ibn Ali in 1976 in Safita, Tartous governorate, his journey began as an integral figure under the wing of Major General Ghassan Bilal, who commands the office of Maher al-Assad, brother of the regime’s leader. This connection to the inner echelons of power provides Abu Ali Khodr with an immediate tether to the Assad regime’s levers.
Beyond a sprawling mansion nestled in Tartous, Abu Ali Khodr’s name echoes in relation to his alleged involvement in the drug trade across the Syrian-Lebanese border. Armed with a dedicated security force and fortified checkpoints, he methodically seizes devices based on a plethora of pretexts.
Abu Ali, Rami Makhlouf, and Asma Al-Assad
Within his eclectic business portfolio, Abu Ali Khodr presides over the Ella Tourism Company and holds a pivotal partnership with the “Jasmine Contracting Company.” His role as the mastermind behind the “Imatel” communications company’s inception placed him in the public eye. This communications enterprise not only marked his foray into the business world but also served as a plausible economic front for Asma al-Assad, given her official connection to the company.
The trajectory of his reputation intersected with the escalating feud involving Rami Makhlouf, the infamous corrupt who lost his favour with the Assad family. Allegations surfaced implicating the “Khidr” group, which Abu Ali Khodr was associated with, in the misappropriation of property and embezzlement. This heightened tension echoed the broader power struggle within the regime’s inner circles.
Asma Al-Assad, the wife of President Bashar Al-Assad, has demonstrated a keen interest in establishing her own economic ventures, aiming to build a personal economic empire. In her pursuit of this goal, she strategically capitalized on the emergence of Abu Ali, leveraging his appearance as a means to advance her business interests. Given the limitations her own name imposed on her endeavours, Asma opted to position Abu Ali as a front for her entrepreneurial activities.
Asma’s acumen was evident in her adept utilization of Abu Ali as a front, effectively presenting him as a compliant figure under her influence. Unlike her relative, Rami Makhlouf, who perceives himself as an influential and integral figure within the Syrian economic landscape, Abu Ali was a pliable entity, amenable to control. The perceived threat Rami Makhlouf posed was highlighted by his subsequent expulsion, which in turn fueled his deliberate efforts to generate controversy and turmoil.
Crucially, Abu Ali, also known as Khodr Ali Taher, represents a figure of recent affluence rather than political ambition. This characteristic aligns with Asma’s objectives, as it mitigates the risk of divergent agendas or power struggles. His emergence onto the scene was marked by his relative lack of political aspiration, making him an ideal candidate to serve as a business figurehead.
The “Imatel Communications” company serves as a prime example of this strategic maneuvering. Asma Al-Assad facilitated the launch of this company under the pseudonym of Abu Ali, thereby initiating a direct challenge to Rami Makhlouf’s Syriatel, a telecommunications company that had long maintained a significant presence within the Syrian market. By leveraging Abu Ali’s reputation as a malleable businessman, Asma aimed to undermine Rami Makhlouf’s dominance and elevate her own economic influence.
In essence, Asma al-Assad’s calculated utilization of Abu Ali as a front underscores her shrewd approach to advancing her personal economic ambitions. By harnessing his compliance and relative lack of political ambition, she successfully maneuvered within the Syrian business landscape, capitalizing on his emergence to establish her own foothold and challenge the status quo.
Navigating Crossings and Capital Flow
In a noteworthy episode, the Syrian regime’s Interior Minister issued a directive to sever all ties with “Abu Ali Khader.” However, this decision underwent a swift about-face, raising questions about the extent of Khader’s sway over high-ranking regime officials and the intricate web of corruption networks.
At present, Abu Ali Khodr wields unparalleled control over all crossings within Syria’s borders, positioning him as the architect of substantial financial transactions. The revenue generated through these crossings invariably cascades to individuals wielding significant influence and power, perpetuating a cycle of interdependency.
From Humble Beginnings to Economic Maestro
Tracing back to his origins, Abu Ali Khodr’s humble beginnings involved the sale of poultry and a stint as a microbus driver. The tumultuous inception of the Syrian revolution in 2011 saw him align with Maher al-Assad’s Fourth Division, navigating the movement of goods through security checkpoints. His wealth burgeoned through the imposition of fees on merchants, collection of charges at checkpoints, and orchestration of movement between regime-controlled and opposition-held territories.
Sanctions Unveil Smuggling Allegations
The fall of 2020 saw “Abu Ali Khodr” ensnared by sanctions imposed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. The rationale behind these measures was his purported involvement in financing the regime and suspected participation in the trade and smuggling of Captagon, a locally manufactured amphetamine.
Heralded as an “economic front for Asma al-Assad,” Abu Ali Khodr’s imprint is discernible in the establishment of “Imatel” and the founding of Ela Media, an advertising firm steering Syria’s largest advertising network. In conjunction, he shepherded the creation of the Ella Tourism Company and secured prominent roles in various other enterprises.
“Abu Ali Khodr’s” ascent to prominence, coupled with his association with Asma al-Assad and alleged involvement in questionable endeavours, continues to engender questions. His story reverberates as a microcosm of Syria’s complex landscape, reflecting the intricacies of economic, political, and power dynamics that persist amidst the nation’s protracted conflict.