Written by By Sue Whitfield, CNN
A Lebanese-Canadian company has been accused of shipping mortar shells that have fallen into the hands of ISIS.
Businesswoman Esther Gash, founder of the Sunrise Realty brokerage, was stunned to see images of mortars, also known as the “smart bombs,” being sold in shops in the city of Beit Al-Maqdes in the northern province of Idlib.
After learning she had been dealing with an offshore company named Wrigleys International Trading Company (WITC), the Damascus-born Ms. Gash contacted CNN.
“This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life … I just started screaming at my coworkers,” she told CNN, adding that the incident had “lifted my spirit.”
ISIS released video of its fighters hauling off some of the 20,000-30,000 shells the company has unloaded since it took control of the area earlier this year.
Ms. Gash told CNN that the contract to ship the shells was signed last June by Syria’s Unity Oil Company, a state-owned entity in the city of Idlib, which is run by a close ally of the Syrian government.
The company even has its own brand name: lwwys.
“Even some Daesh (ISIS) (fighters) — we ran into them — but they didn’t say anything,” she said.
‘It’s a nightmare’
The city of Beit Al-Maqdes was officially surrendered to rebel forces in November — albeit under intense bombardment — and is currently a dangerous no-go zone for journalists.
Ms. Gash says the shells are being delivered to ISIS from Khan Al-Khalil, in the central province of Homs.
Some shells end up on Israeli territory and Israel warned in November that militants “should immediately end rocket and mortar fire on civilian centers” and said Israel would respond to the “deliberate targeting” of civilian areas.
The government has denied the accusations.
In addition to buying the weapons from Unity Oil Company, Ms. Gash says WITC was working with Orient International Trading Company, which has been doing business in Khan Al-Khalil since July, after reaching a cease-fire deal with the government.
“They are coordinating everything with the Syrian government, its head of security, and even the electricity — he’s helping them supply ISIS with so many rockets,” Ms. Gash told CNN.
“Just a story of innocents dying and children, they will be so happy when they see these pictures. This is a tale of lies and lies told … You [ISIS] want to go to victory and all your dreams come true in the end.”
Syria’s Unity Oil Company spokesman Ibrahim Mamna called the allegations “extremely baseless.”
“No one in Unity Oil Company gets the orders from WITC… Unity Oil Company does not get orders from Orient International Trading Company,” he told CNN.
CNN sent several detailed questions to Orient International Trading Company, the CEO, to whom Ms. Gash appeared to be referring, and WITC, the company in question. All of those requests were ignored.
Another prominent party in the story is GITC, which employs Canadian-Lebanese Roger Leblanc to purchase the munitions.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Ms. Gash, who has owned the Sunrise Realty firm for more than a decade.
Leblanc “is a well-known Muslim gentleman who is not going to live to see the end of it,” she added.
The collapse of an investigative journalism organization in Lebanon due to a funding dispute has made the situation even more difficult, Ms. Gash said.
“The media in Syria is very important in the regime’s battlefield battles and the civil war and they are very weak,” she said.
“It’s really heartbreaking. … Thank God for the Twitter feed.”
CNN contacted Leblanc and he told CNN he was not available to comment.
WITC is registered in Canada and has offices in Delaware and Geneva.