Man arrested in France on suspicion of sending chemical weapons supplies to Syria

A man suspected of supplying equipment to the Syrian army – including components that could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons – has been arrested in the south of France after arriving there for a holiday, French media reported on Sunday.

The man has not been officially named but he is said to be a French/Syrian citizen with connections in the UAE, born in 1962 and sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2016.

The description matches that of Salah Habib, head of a shipment company called Yona Star International:

In its 2016 press release announcing sanctions on Habib and his firm, the US Treasury said:

"Yona Star has long acted as a shipping agent for the Syrian Air Force, as well as other designated Government of Syria entities, including the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), Syrian Air Force Intelligence, and the Army Supply Bureau. Yona Star has also attempted to ship aircraft tires to the Government of Syria. The company has offices in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Damascus, Syria.

"Salah Habib, who manages Yona Star and serves as the company’s owner and CEO, is a key figure in a network of intermediary and logistics firms based in the UAE that have shipped sensitive merchandise and war materials to Syria. SSRC regularly utilized Salah Habib’s network to procure and send merchandise in violation of international sanctions against Syria."

The US subsequently sanctioned a second firm, Syriss Logistics and Services, which it said had "acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the previously-designated entity Yona Star". The announcement added: "As of 2016, previously-designated Salah Habib of Yona Star used Syriss to ship goods on behalf of Yona Star, and Syriss was involved in the shipment of Chinese-made merchandise to the SSRC."

The SSRC is a Syrian government agency which carries out a variety of scientific work but is best known for its role in developing chemical weapons.