How the RSF got their 4×4 Technicals: The open source intelligence techniques behind our Sudan exposé

Today we’re publishing another secret document revealing the financial networks behind Sudan’s most powerful militia – the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). An apparently genuine RSF spreadsheet shows how they bought over 1,000 vehicles, including hundreds of Toyota pickup trucks which the militia frequently convert into armed ‘technicals’.

We obtained the spreadsheet via satirical Sudanese online channel Al Bashoum, which had published a screenshot of one of the pages, but had not put out the full document. Al Bashoum was also the source of some of the seemingly authentic bank documents we analysed in our last report: Exposing the RSF’s Secret Financial Network. We’re publishing the spreadsheet in both its original and in an English translation.

When corroborating the documents, we used a variety of open source intelligence (OSINT) techniques to investigate the names of companies and individuals mentioned. We also checked to see if any of the vehicles appear in contemporaneous photos or videos. We’d like to share what we did, and also lay out some of the questions which we were unable to answer in the time available. We hope that others can help reveal more about the network apparently behind the RSF.

Why do we think the RSF spreadsheet is genuine?

It is possible that this document is too good to be true. After all, leaked financial information for militaries or paramilitary groups is exceedingly rare. (One of the few examples known to Global Witness is this analysis, drawing on captured documents, of the finances of Al Qaida in Iraq in 2005/6, the violent jihadi group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.) Could the document be part of an elaborate misinformation campaign?

In addition to investigating the provenance of the document, contacting individuals and companies named therein, and talking to sources familiar with the RSF leadership, the spreadsheet itself contains information which can be corroborated.

There isn’t one single section of the document that indicates its authenticity. Rather, it is the accumulation of interlocking references to companies, individuals and types of vehicles which, when triangulated using other sources, led us to the conclusion that the document is almost certainly authentic.

When we investigated the companies named using corporate records and analysis of registered website domains, we found familial connections to the leadership of the RSF. When we followed up references to named individuals we found many of them easily on social media, many of them linked to family members of the RSF leadership, and some of them connected to one of the companies named in the spreadsheet. And when we examined the vehicles named in the spreadsheet we found pictures of the same make and model of vehicles, from a variety of independent sources, at almost every stage of the supply chain from Dubai to Sudan. Taken as a whole, it is our opinion that the document is highly likely to be genuine.

Where we could identify the companies or individuals, we wrote to them for comment on why they appeared in the spreadsheet. After repeated attempts to contact 42 companies, only nine companies gave full or partial responses. These responses are integrated in the blog where appropriate, and we annotated the spreadsheet with the responses we received. The majority of the responses stated that they had no knowledge, or means of knowing, that they dealt directly or indirectly with RSF or their procurement agents. Given the use of middlemen this is almost certain to be the case and we do not suggest any wrongdoing on the part of any individuals or companies mentioned in this blog or spreadsheet, unless otherwise discussed.

In two responses companies listed as suppliers in the spreadsheet told Global Witness that the goods were bought by Tradive General Trading. This is further confirmation of the authenticity of the spreadsheet. As discussed further below, our last publication revealed that Tradive is controlled by Algoney Hamdan Daglo, the younger brother of Hemedti, the leader of the RSF.

The vehicles

Sudan RSF Technicals 4x4s

RAPID SUPPORT FORCES (RSF) “TECHNICALS”, JUNE 22, 2019. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The RSF spreadsheet describes the purchase and importation of more than 1,000 vehicles during the first half of 2019. The majority of these vehicles were Toyota Hilux and Land Cruiser pick-up trucks, often converted by the RSF into ‘technicals’, 4×4 military vehicles with mounted machine guns on the back.

We reviewed over one hundred RSF videos posted on the militia’s official Facebook page, and others posted by Sudanese citizens on social media. We were looking for any corroboration of the authenticity of the document through identifying particular models listed in the spreadsheet. 

We found photos and documents which provide snapshots of each stage of the journey from Dubai to Sudan of the same make and model the vehicles named in the spreadsheet.

Toyota responded to our request for comment, stating that: “Toyota has a strict policy not to sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities, and have procedures in place to prevent their products from being diverted for unauthorised military use.” They further told Global Witness that Toyota “complies with export control and sanctions laws, and requires dealers and distributors to do the same”. Toyota emphasised that it has clear guidelines not to sell vehicles to military or police organisations in Sudan. 

Stage 1: The vehicle showrooms of Dubai

It is possible to find online the same model of vehicles advertised by the same companies named in the spreadsheet. For example, one line lists “Purchase 50 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup car, standard, Beige colour, 2019 model with 2018 paintings”, and the supplier column states that “Al Karama Motors Showroom (50 cars×103000 dirham)”. Sure enough, Al Karama – a vehicle retailer based in Dubai – currently lists identical models of the type bought by the RSF. This is useful circumstantial evidence, which helps support the plausibility of the contents of the RSF spreadsheet.

Sudan RSF Technicals 1&2

SOURCE: PHOTOS TAKEN FROM AL KARAMA MOTORS WEBSITE IN OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER 2019

Al Karama Motors denied knowing that it dealt with the RSF. There is no suggestion that Al Karama Motors has knowingly supplied vehicles to the RSF or are guilty of any wrongdoing.

We wrote to all identifiable vehicle suppliers named in the spreadsheet and, like Al Karama, those who replied denied knowledge that they were supplying to the RSF. One supplier wrote back to confirm the purchases, and supplied details such as the number of vehicles purchased on certain dates. These matched the information in the leaked spreadsheet.

Sudan RSF Technicals 3 resize

SOURCE: STILL FROM VIDEO POSTED ON FACEBOOK, 2019

Stage 2: Getting ready to transport the vehicles from Dubai

A video posted on 20 March 2019 on Sudanese social media shows dozens of beige Toyota Land Cruisers and Hilux pickup trucks (white with a distinctive red stripe painted on the side) parked up ready to be shipped to Sudan. We geo-located the video to an industrial area of Dubai. The person narrating the video says that there were 600 vehicles in total (some of which had already been shipped to Sudan) and that they were told by the shipping company that the vehicles were for use by Hemedti’s militia.

Many of the vehicles in the video display a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Standardization Organization (GSO) energy efficiency sticker. This sticker was only introduced in the UAE from 2017 onwards. This indicates that RSF vehicles seen with this sticker are likely 2018 and 2019 models and were imported from GCC member states.

We have found a very similar energy sticker in videos of convoys of police and RSF militia posted online after the 3 June massacre.

Sudan RSF Technicals 4&5

SOURCE: STILLS FROM VIDEOS POSTED TO TWITTER: LEFT 6 JUNE 2019, AND RIGHT 30 JUNE 2019

By examining a wide range of RSF related social media accounts Global Witness has identified several Toyota vehicles used by the RSF and police with this same energy efficiency sticker more clearly displayed.

Sudan RSF Technicals 6&7&8

SOURCE: PICTURES POSTED ON THE FACEBOOK PAGES OF RSF MILITIAMEN SHOWING THEIR TECHNICAL STILL WITH THE GSO ENERGY EFFICIENCY STICKER, FROM LEFT TO RIGHT – POSTED OCTOBER 2019, JULY 2019, JUNE 2019

Can you help? Remaining questions: If there is a clear photo of one of these stickers available from open sources, it may be possible to use the GSO QR scanner to identify the date of manufacture of the vehicle.

Stage 3: Shipping the vehicles to Sudan

Sudan RSF Technicals 9

SOURCE: ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHER, PHOTO TAKEN ON 25 MARCH 2019

There is a red sticker on the RSF vehicles in two of the photos above. This is from the Red Sea Service Centre – an import/export and customs clearance company with a main branch in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. According to their social media postings this company uses a ship called the “Egyptian Al Karama”. (Despite the name, there is no connection with Al Karama motors.) In the leaked RSF spreadsheet the Al Karama is listed as having shipped 75 vehicles on 23 March 2019. Using historical shipping data from Marine Traffic, a shipping database, we can confirm that the Al Karama travelled from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to Sawakin, Sudan (also known as Osman Digna Port), arriving on the 23 March 2019. (There is a land route from the UAE to Jeddah, so it is likely that the vehicles were transported overland first). In our opinion this means that the information in the RSF spreadsheet is plausible. When Global Witness contacted the Red Sea Service Centre, they referred us to the company making the shipment, and denied any knowledge that the vehicles might be put to military use.

We found one picture online of about 100 Toyota cars, vans and pickup trucks lined up at Sawakin port. According to the photographer, the picture was taken from on board the Namma Express ship on 25 March 2019, i.e. just after the arrival of vehicles on the Al Karama. However, we cannot definitively say whether this photo shows those particular vehicles, or any of the other shipments, at Sawakin port. Global Witness does not allege any wrong doing by any shipping company.

Another ship featured in the social media posts of the Red Sea Service Centre is the ‘Med Link’. This vessel is named in a shipping document entitled a ‘cars manifest’, which was widely circulated on Sudanese social media. This specifies that 53 Toyotas (41 Hilux and 12 Land Cruisers) were shipped from Jeddah to Sawakin on 27 May 2019. The consignee name in the manifest is “RSF – Ministry of Defence”. This timeframe tallies approximately with the RSF spreadsheet which has an entry for “53 Toyota vehicles shipping” against a date of 6 June 2019. In our opinion, it is likely that the 53 vehicles mentioned in this shipping manifest refer to the same shipment.

Read the full stoy on Globalwitness

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