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A relative of Syrian President Bashar Assad is hiding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in three locations in Syria, according to intelligence sources cited by an exiled opposition party.

The weapons were smuggled in large wooden crates and barrels by Zu Alhema al-Shaleesh, known for moving arms into Iraq in violation of U.N. resolutions and for sending recruits to fight coalition forces, said the U.S.-based Reform Party of Syria.

The party, based in Potomac, Md., regards itself as a secular body comprised of Syrians who want to see the country embrace “real democratic and economic reforms.”

One weapons-cache location identified by the sources is a mountain tunnel near the village of al-Baidah in northwest Syria, the report said. The tunnel is known to house a branch of the Assad regime’s national security apparatus.

Two other arms supplies are reported to be in west-central Syria. One is hidden at a factory operated by the Syrian Air Force, near the village of Tal Snan, between the cities of Hama and Salmiyeh. The third location is tunnels beneath the small town of Shinshar, which belongs to the 661 battalion of the Syrian Air Force.

The nephew of Zu Alhema al-Shaleesh, Assef al-Shaleesh, runs Al Bashair Trading Co., a front for the Assad family involved prior to the war in oil smuggling from Iraq and arms smuggling into the country. Al-Bashair has offices in Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad.

In an exclusive interview yesterday with the London Telegraph, Assad came close to admitting his country possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Assad told the London paper Syria rejects American and British demands for concessions on weapons of mass destruction, insisting Damascus is entitled to defend itself by acquiring its own chemical and biological deterrent.

He said Israel must agree to abandon its undeclared nuclear arsenal in order for Syria to consider any deal with the U.S.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported Al Bashair Trading Co. participated in the smuggling of millions of dollars worth of sophisticated arms and equipment to Saddam Hussein for three years prior to the Iraqi leader’s overthrow.

Al Bashair executives met with North Korean firms before the war began, according to the Los Angeles daily. The paper’s three-month investigation included the translation of 800 signed contracts found in the Al Bashair Trading Co. office shortly before U.S. troops entered Baghdad.

Just prior to the U.S.-led effort to oust Hussein, SES International Corp. signed at least 50 contracts to supply weapons and gear to Iraq, the Times said, including 1,000 heavy machine guns and up to 20 million rounds for assault rifles.

Not all the weapons were delivered, but some may still be in use by terrorists battling the U.S. occupation forces, the newspaper said.

At least one shipment of arms was completed with the help of the Syrian government in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.

SES International Corp. denied any wrongdoing, while Syria’s foreign ministry refused to comment to the Times.


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