What is Hand in Hand for Syria Hiding?

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Dr Declan Hayes from the University of Southampton has conducted a detailed investigation of the UK charity Hand in Hand for Syria; the results of which are most disconcerting. These findings suggest that the charity – granted a great deal of promotion by the BBC –  is actually a front organisation for Syrian rebel group the Free Syrian Army; meaning that money donated to the charity is likely going straight into the hands of these extremists to enable their activities, and funding hospitals and medical supplies which are primarily used to treat injured rebel fighters. The main body of Dr Hayes’ report can be read below, whilst the remainder can be viewed here.

 

Dr Declan Hayes: Hand in Glove

Re: Hand in Hand for Syria? (Registered Charity 1145862)
Please find the attached document outlining my concerns about the above-named charity and why I believe it warrants an urgent investigation by the police, by the Charity Commission, by the media and by relevant elected officials which all have a duty of care to ensure bogus charities are not allowed operate for either base mercenary or politically- motivated reasons. My main concerns may be summarised as follows:

  •  Hand in Hand for Syria is very politically partisan. It is an active, if somewhat clandestine supporter of the armed Syrian opposition and is therefore, at the very least, in breach of the Charity Commission code.
  •  Hand in Hand for Syria, superficial claims to the contrary notwithstanding, is financially and organisationally very opaque. This is not only unacceptable on financial probity grounds but adds to the suspicion that Hand in Hand for Syria and groups allied to it are effectively financial and propaganda tools for the armed Syrian opposition.
  •  Hand in Hand for Syria have engaged in a number of very dubious high-profile media coups, most notably in Saving Syria’s Children, the widely criticised BBC Panorama show. If the complaints against Hand in Hand for Syria are sustained, they bring the BBC and other media outlets that have collaborated with them into disrepute.
  •  Hand in Hand for Syria have the active support of a relatively large number of medical professionals working for the NHS. If the complaints against Hand in Hand for Syria are sustained, they bring the NHS and all its staff into disrepute.
  •  Hand in Hand for Syria have been primarily funded by a notorious Saudi extremist who is now banned from entering Switzerland and Britain. That being so, a full investigation is needed to ascertain if Hand in Hand for Syria are merely well- funded and well-organised “innocents abroad” or if there is a more sinister under- current to them.

Hand in Hand for Syria have a number of trustees, who have expressed their support for extremist actions and extremist organisations in Syria and countries contiguous to it. That being so, a full investigation is needed to ascertain if such support is the real raison d’être of Hand in Hand for Syria. If you want further information or to speak to me about any of the material contained here, please contact me at the following email address londonhayes@gmail.com or on my mobile phone +447942440165. Although I can be reached at the university address and at my university email, I would prefer you used the contacts conduits given here.
Dr Declan Hayes
d.hayes@soton.ac.uk dated: 23/7/2014

Who is Hand in Hand for Syria Hand in Hand with? (Registered Charity 1145862)

I wish to draw to your attention my serious concerns with the above-named charity and their apparent links to Syrian extremists. Specifically, I believe this group, contrary to their role as a charity registered with the Charity Commission, has raised money and made fraudulent propaganda for their political aims of helping the armed Syrian rebel extremists achieve power rather than the humanitarian aims they purport to work for and for which the Charity Commission licenced them.

Although I base my beliefs on the well-documented controversies surrounding their media involvement and the apparent governance and financial contradictions and anomalies in their fund-raising activities, most of what follows will concentrate on reconciling the financial and media claims they make with what is known of the Hand in Hand for Syria organisation and the people behind it.

Despite its penchant for publicity and the relatively large number of NHS-related medical professional supporting it, Hand in Hand for Syria is not a transparent organisation. Not only are much of its media activities dubious in the extreme but the fact, claims to the contrary aside, it is so financially opaque sits uneasily with the amount of NHS medics it has supporting it. One would expect if not demand these medics and other professionals colluding with it would appreciate the importance of having a transparent money trail. Because no such transparent money trail seems to exist and the sympathies of its leading lights are so clearly aligned with those of the Syrian rebel extremists, Hand in Hand for Syria warrants an investigation into it by the police, by the Charity Commission, by the media and by relevant elected officials which all have a duty of care to ensure bogus charities are not allowed operate for either base mercenary or politically-motivated reasons. If any of Hand in Hand for Syria’s principals knowingly engaged in fraudulent, dishonest or unethical behaviour, the forces of law and order and the appropriate professional bodies must take the severest punitive action against them.

Hand in Hand for Syria’s Main Objective

The leaders of Hand in Hand for Syria have a political objective and their propaganda and actions are conducted to serve that objective. As the rest of this document will show, its key leaders have long supported the armed Syrian opposition and most, if not all, of their activities are in areas controlled by those extremists. That makes them, in effect, collaborators of the armed Syrian opposition.

Where Does Hand in Hand for Syria Primarily Operate?

Their website claims here http://www.handinhandforsyria.org.uk/: “We take medical and humanitarian aid into 90% of the country, using our unique and extensive networks on the ground in Syria. We also implement aid funded by, and on behalf of, some of the world’s biggest aid agencies, who are unable to get into Syria themselves”.

This is untrue. They do not work in 90% of Syria and they have no demonstrable established links with major aid agencies, who would demand a well-established audited money trail before working with them on any meaningful level. If the situation is as they claim, they should name “the world’s biggest aid agencies” which work with them both for transparency and for their own credibility.

Their http://www.handinhandforsyria.org.uk/ website makes plain they are busy collecting funds to use in the “90% of Syria” they claim to operate in. However, as they do not and cannot operate in any of the areas controlled by the Syrian government, the claim they operate in “90% of Syria” is very clearly wrong, if not deliberately misleading. The Syrian authorities would not allow any such organisation with their sympathies operate in areas they control and the Syrian government controls far more than 10% of Syria.

Contrary to their claims of impartiality, the Hand in Hand for Syria charity operates only in the areas controlled by ISIS and the other Syrian rebels and their appeals, such as their current ones for their flag-ship hospital at Atareb, are primarily to send aid to those operatives in those areas. Although their logo, which originally had the flag of the Syrian rebels embedded in it, indicates that they are politically partisan, many of their leading members have umbilical links with the leaders of the Syrian rebel militias. Because there is absolutely no way these people, given their allegiances, their track record and their blanket displays of rebel logos, would be allowed to operate in government-held areas, there is a very black cloud over them and their financial and other claims.

Here http://tinyurl.com/rolax2 Hand in Hand for Syria claim: “Neither the Syrian government nor the Free Syrian Army (or other opposition groups) constrain our activity, which means we can work across borders and behind front lines. Therefore, we deliver aid to both opposition-held and government-held areas, including besieged areas whenever possible. And since we don’t work through third parties, we can monitor everything directly to ensure our aid reaches the right people, and those who need it most”.

This is patently untrue and, as we shall see in the following paragraph, Hand in Hand for Syria admit as much. The Syrian government would not and do not allow a group with such obvious political links to rebel extremists to operate in their areas. Were Hand in Hand for Syria operating in government-controlled areas, the Syrian authorities could tell where precisely they are operating and how they are supplying the centres they operate from. However, as there is no way Hand in Hand for Syria could run and supply any medical facilities on the government side of the lines without the cooperation of the Syrian authorities, grave doubts have to be cast not only on Hand in Hand for Syria’s claims to be non-partisan and to operate in 90% of Syria but on all of their other claims as well.

In answer to the charge than Hand in Hand for Syria only operate in rebel-controlled areas, Mr al-Dairi, one of their (three only) trustees listed with the Charity Commission, claims here http://tinyurl.com/Fadix1 that “[In the government-controlled areas] you wouldn’t see Hand in Hand’s name; you would see a normal name. We have two schools and a hospital, but these do not look like they are associated with Hand in Hand, they would look entirely normal. This is to protect the people on the ground and the people who attend. We do it totally differently in the government-controlled areas. In these areas we would do it in normal vehicles: small saloon cars or normal cars. In opposition held areas we can travel openly, whereas in government-controlled areas, you cannot fill a car with more than two food baskets – two is the maximum. Anyone seen with a lot of aid is targeted, it is a criminal offence.”

Mr al-Dairi goes on to explain: “Due to the enormous risk that the volunteers and workers from Hand in Hand run when they deliver aid into the government-controlled areas of the country, the charity has suffered tragic losses in personnel. We have lost 15 of our staff in Syria over the last two and a half years, which is why we are so security-conscious. We believe that they were captured and then killed – tortured to death. We do a lot of work inside Syria, but we don’t talk about it because nothing is safe”.

So, although Hand in Hand for Syria has suffered 15 fatalities for some unexplained reason in government-controlled areas where they continue to operate a token supply of aid, in addition to the two schools and a hospital they claim to have there, this and the fact “we don’t talk about it” does not seem credible for a number of reasons. Given the relative tokenism of the aid to government-controlled areas, it is not worth the risk. As for the two schools and hospital, there is no way, Mr al-Dairi’s bizarre claims to the contrary, they could exist or function without the Syrian government knowing about them. Because Mr al- Dairi does not address the question as to why they can be so (seemingly relatively) open and transparent in the rebel-controlled areas but so underhand and tokenistic in the government-controlled areas, the inference must be that they are primarily supporters of the Syrian rebels. This view is strengthened by examining their key players and they key projects.

Hand in Hand for Syria’s Guiding Lights

Hand in Hand for Syria’s website was first registered with Whois here: http://tinyurl.com/HIHR1 only as recently as 12 April 2012 and it is registered until 12 April 2015. It is registered to Marwan Ghannam, 67 Yoxall Road, Solihull, B90 3RP. Marwan’s phone number is given in a fund-raising poster here: http://tinyurl.com/HHand8. These links http://tinyurl.com/HIHR2 and http://tinyurl.com/HHand2 indicate he is very involved in the local Islamic Centre and has taught Islamic courses in the USA and Syria; he has also been mentioned here http://tinyurl.com/HHand3 in a BBC account of outreach programmes in London. Interestingly, given the lack of audited accounts to date, he is a chartered accountant by profession. Interesting, as this link http://tinyurl.com/HHand1 on their webpage states, Razan Zehrawi, one of Hand in Hand for Syria’s trustees, whose background is decorative arts, is in charge of their banking, rather than Marwan Ghannam, who, as a qualified chartered accountant, is much more competent to fulfil that role. Given his relevant training, one would a priori expect Mr Ghannam rather than Ms Zehrawi to be in charge of the accounts but that is not the case.

Hand in Hand for Syria should explain why this is not the case. Ms Zehrawi is pictured with her daughter here http://tinyurl.com/HHand4 at a Hand in Hand for Syria fund-raising event. Her contact details, including phone numbers and address are here: http://tinyurl.com/HHand5 Her address is given in this newspaper report http://tinyurl.com/HHand6 As this link http://tinyurl.com/HHand7 indicates there is a Razan Zehrawi Sahloul living nearby, it is possible she is related to Faddy Sahloul, the chairperson of the Hand in Hand for Syria group. This link gives the same address that Razan Zehrawi uses for Faddy Sahloul. http://tinyurl.com/homex1 it also lists him as directors of two separate companies, both with similar names (Global Fresh Produce and Ideal Fresh Produce) and both of which have since been dissolved. Both Faddy and Razan Sahloul are also listed here http://tinyurl.com/finestx1 as former directors of Finest Fresh Produce Ltd company, which also included Vicki Steward as a director. This link http://tinyurl.com/finestx2 tells us that “Vikki Steward …has resigned from 199 companies and held 9 appointments at 9 dissolved companies”. Faddy’s extended family are reputably big players in the transfer of currencies to the world’s more exotic locations; much of this grey market is reputedly controlled by Zuhair Sahloul: http://tinyurl.com/sahloul1 and http://tinyurl.com/sahloul2

Hand in Hand for Syria’s website claims here http://www.handinhandforsyria.org.uk/about- us/ : “We don’t ask questions. We bring aid to anyone who needs it, regardless of their politics or religion. We are humanitarian in the full sense of the word”. Although the blood- curdling sympathies of Mr Faddy Sahloul, their trustee, would suggest not all of them are “humanitarian in the full sense of the word”, their clear and constant political pro-rebel stance is a breach of the Charity Commission’s guidelines.

As this Skynews report on one of their doctors killed in Syria shows http://tinyurl.com/HIHTrustee one such trustee (unlisted with the Charity Commission) is Dr Mahmoud al Akraa who led a mob that disrupted a peaceful and inclusive meeting in London. Details of that meeting, where they heckled children and hurled abuse at them, are here: http://tinyurl.com/HIHTrustee2. His Facebook page shows here http://tinyurl.com/HIHTrustee3 he and Dr Rola Alkurdi Hallam are friends. As this link http://tinyurl.com/trusteexx1 shows, Dr Mahmoud al Akraa also shares platforms with disgraced and discredited provocateur Danny Abdel Dayyem; more to the point perhaps, Dr al Akraa claims that the Syrian government forces will summarily and sadistically torture and then kill any Syrian seen to have been getting medical aid from non-approved sources which, if true, would have to call into the question Hand in Hand for Syria’s clearly suicidal policy, as enunciated by his fellow trustee, Mr al-Dairi, of running token medical services in government-controlled Syria. Equally importantly, at 2:43 into the video, he expresses his delight that “the Muslim Brotherhood is coming back” to Syria. Hand in Hand for Syria should explain whether or not they support the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian National Council and the various rebel extremist groups they have been associated with. They should also clearly state what, if any, disciplinary action they intend to take against Dr al Akraa as well as the blood-thirsty Mr Sahloul.

This link http://tinyurl.com/rola1 points out that Dr Rola Hallam, who is at the centre of the Hand in Hand for Syria movement, is the daughter of Dr. Mousa al Kurdi, a leading apologist for Syrian extremist militias, who has been involved at the highest levels with the rebels. Dr Rola was one of the signatories and organisers of the 16 September 2013 letter to The Lancet, signed by a large number of medics, many globally prominent, asking that they be allowed to work unhindered in Syria. Given that all of them, Dr Rola included, declared “that we have no conflicts of interest”, Dr Rola should clarify whether that is, in fact, the case. Dr Rola should, in other words, explain whether her 16 September 2013 declaration is true that she has no conflict of interest or whether her real sympathies and those of Hand in Hand for Syria, like their actions, are partisan. To aid her in that process, further information on her dubious links and more evidence showing Panorama’s apparent fake reporting can be had here http://tinyurl.com/rolaw1

 

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besthihlogo-faddy-sahloul-fb-page1Figures 1 and 2: Pro-rebel screenshots of the Facebook page of Faddy Salhoul. More screenshots are in Appendix 1. The actual photo is one of a very large number of staged photos rebel extremists in Kafranbel flood the Internet with.

Until early July 2014, the Facebook banner of Faddy Salhoul, Hand in Hand for Syria’s co- founder and chairman, read “We will bring Assad to justice, no matter what lives it takes, no matter how much catastrophe it makes”. This blood lust contradicts Hand in Hand for Syria’s declared purpose (on the Charity Commission website) of “the advancement of health or saving lives” even though it sits four-square with the aims of the Syrian rebel extremists. As can be seen from the screenshots, his Facebook page also prominently displays Hand in Hand for Syria’s original pro-rebel logo. Hand in Hand for Syria should declare whether or not they and their leaders support the Kafranbel rebel extremists. If they do, the Charity Commission should take the appropriate action; if they do not, they should dispense with the services of Mr Sahloul and have his services professionally audited for fear of bringing Hand in Hand for Syria into disrepute.

Hand in Hand People: Mohammad bin Abdul Rahman Al Arefe

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Figure 3: Mohammad Al-Arefe, the extremist Saudi preacher, speaks at a Hand in Hand for Syria event (where the rebel emblem can clearly be seen on their logo).

Hand in Hand has for Syria has other extremist links as shown here: http://tinyurl.com/HIHfounder and http://tinyurl.com/HIHfounder2 where extremist Saudi Salafist preacher Mohammad bin Abdul Rahman Al Arefe is photographed speaking at a Hand in Hand for Syria function and, worryingly, is named as its primary financier. Al- Arefe, who holds the position of Imam of the Mosque of the King Fahd Academy of the Saudi Navy, is banned from entering Switzerland due to his extreme sectarian views. Following the airing of video footage depicting young British ISIS jihadists he helped radicalise urging their compatriots to follow them to Syria, the Home Office belatedly banned al Arefe from Britain too after it was revealed he preached at the al-Manar Centre the young jihadists attended.

As this report in the Independent http://tinyurl.com/HHclaims2 states, Al-Arefe supports the concept of jihad in Syria “in every possible way” He has in the past accused Shias of being responsible for kidnapping, cooking and skinning children before placing their remains outside the family home for their parents to find, and he recently called for Muslim women to travel to Syria to perform sex jihad. Al-Arefe is a disciple of the late Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz who, as Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993 until his death in 1999 was an ardent supporter of Osama bin Ladin.

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Figure 4: Mohammad Al-Arefe is honoured at a major jihadist fund-raising event. The above photo was retrieved from this link http://tinyurl.com/arefex2 which discusses Al- Nusra’s structure. The photo is from a jihadist fund-raising meeting and Arefe is portrayed as one of their key fund-raisers.

The similarity between this jihadist “hand in hand” logo and that of Hand in Hand for Syria is not accidental as they are both based on the original rebels’ emblem, explained in this BBC report http://tinyurl.com/arefeq where the founding statement of the Free Syrian Army states they “work hand in hand with the people to achieve freedom and dignity, topple the regime, protect the revolution and the country’s resources and stand up to the irresponsible military machine which is protecting the regime.” Hand in Hand for Syria, it seems is hand in hand with some very unsavoury characters.

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Figures 5a (Free Syrian Army Flag), 5b (Hand in Hand for Syria logo), 5c. (Flag of the Syrian Arab Republic). It is apparent that the emblem of Hand in Hand for Syria (5b), is modelled on the flag of the Free Syrian Army and is therefore aligned to those Mr Al-Arefe used in Cairo. Not only do both Hand in Hand for Syria and Mr Al-Arefe, their extremist benefactor, use the flag of the Free Syrian Army as their prototype but they both used clasped hands alluded to in the founding document of the Free Syrian Army.

Al Jazeera admits in 2011 Prospect of Syrian Revolution Unlikely

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C-R) a

Qatar propaganda machine Al Jazeera admitted in February 2011, a month before the start of the uprising, that the prospect of a successful ‘revolution’ in Syria was unlikely – due to the popularity of the country’s president: Bashar al-Assad. The report states:

“Unlike Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who’s 83, Bashar al-Assad is young. Young people are quite proud of him. They may not like the regime, they don’t like corruption and a lot of things, but they tend to blame this on the people around him, the ‘old guard’.”

A Syrian student echoes these comments. “The president knows that reform is needed and he is working on it”, she says.

“As for me, I don’t have anything against our president. The main issues which need to be addressed are freedom of speech and expression as well as human rights. I believe that the president and his wife are working on that. New NGOs have started to emerge.

“Also, many things have changed since Bashar came to power, whether it has to do with road construction, salary raises, etc. Even when it comes to corruption, he is trying hard to stop that and limit the use of ‘connections’ by the powerful figures in Syria. However, he won’t be able to dramatically change the country with the blink of an eye.”

Bashar came to power in 2000, after his father passed away. For much of his life he had assumed that the task of ruling would pass to his older brother, so he began studying medicine, eventually gaining a doctorate in ophthalmology at London’s Western Eye Hospital. However, in 1994, his brother Bassel died in a car crash; Bashar was recalled to Damascus, where he married the British-Syrian Asma, and begun preparing to lead the country.

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Syria is now considered as being a secular/multi-faith society, perhaps now the last one in the Middle East apart from Lebanon, since the US/UK imposed regime changes in Iraq and Libya. The western media has focused on the fact that Bashar belongs to the minority Alawite Shia sect, alienating the country’s 22 million Sunnis. However, there are many government positions occupied by Sunnis, including the first lady Asma.

Al Jazeera highlight that Syria is essentially a one-party state, and opposition parties are essentially banned. In the report, Joshua Landis – the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma – claims:

“I’m always astounded how the average guy in the street, the taxi driver, the person you talk to in a restaurant or wherever, they don’t talk about democracy. They complain about corruption, they want justice and equality, but they’ll look at elections in Lebanon and laugh, saying ‘who needs that kind of democracy’?”

“The younger generation has been depoliticised. They don’t belong to parties. They see politics as a danger and they have been taught by their parents to see it as a danger. They look at the violence out there, in places like Iraq.”

Facebook sites calling for protests to be held in Syria on February 4 and 5 got about 15,000 fans but failed to mobilise demonstrators for a “day of anger”. In fact, countercampaigns set up online in favour of the government garnered as much support.

Ribal al-Assad, an exiled cousin of President al-Assad and the director of the London-based Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria, said the people calling for protests were all based abroad and he is not surprised that nothing happened inside Syria.

“The campaign was a bit outrageous. First, they’ve chosen a date that reminds people of the uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood [the 29th anniversary of the Hama massacre],” he says.

“People don’t want to be reminded of the past. They want change, they want freedom, but they want it peacefully. And the picture they used on Facebook, a clenched fist and red colour like blood behind, it was like people calling for civil war and who in his right mind wants that?”

It is not difficult to see why young Syrians would be disillusioned with western style democracy following the campaign of shock and awe that bombarded their neighbours in 2003, followed by 10 years of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration consulted with the exiled Iraqi ‘opposition’; in fact evidence of Saddam’s WMD was fabricated by one such exile, in order to take revenge on the dictator and incite a war.

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For meaningful change to be implemented, it must be done so with popular support of the citizens. What Al Jazeera, and other media outlets have failed to show outside audiences, are the large pro-government rallies that regularly take place. This is why, for almost 4 years, Syria has endured a civil war and not a revolution.

Sources:

Syria: ‘a kingdom of silence’
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/02/201129103121562395.html

Syria: One Month Before ‘Revolution’ Al Jazeera Admits Revolution Unlikely Due To Assad’s Popularity:
http://empirestrikesblack.com/2014/01/february-2011-al-jazeera-admits-syrian-revolution-unlikely-assad-enjoys-popular-support/comment-page-1/#comment-30482

Why no Revolution Exists in Syria:
http://nsnbc.me/2013/07/30/why-no-revolution-exists-in-syria/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bashar_al-Assad