Economic bubble for Qaterji in Aleppo’s industrial city

Screenshot of Qaterji's announcement of launching the largest industrial cluster in the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City in Aleppo (Qaterji Holding Group)

Screenshot of Qaterji's announcement of launching the largest industrial cluster in the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City in Aleppo (Qaterji Holding Group)


Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

At the end of last May, the Qaterji Holding Group announced the launch of what it described as the “largest” industrial cluster in the Middle East, and the first of its kind in Syria, within the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City in Aleppo, northern Syria.

The new project spans an area of three million square meters within the industrial city limits, featuring 357 unspecified industries and will rely on alternative energy producing about 150 megawatts of electricity.

The project, which is scheduled to be completed within a year, will provide 300,000 direct and indirect job opportunities, according to the announcement.

The Qaterji family is among the war profiteers close to the Syrian regime, which allowed the family to extend its influence and enhance its presence in the country’s economy.

The announcement of the industrial cluster raises questions about the Qaterji family’s goals behind this project, given the relatively unprepared infrastructure in Syria to establish such projects.

Previous projects that the family obtained on paper without execution on the ground also raise questions about the possibility of successfully launching this cluster.

Promotion to the people

Syrian researcher in local administration and political economy at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Ayman al-Dusouki, told Enab Baladi that the announcement of the cluster comes amid rumors of members of the Qaterji family being arrested and restricted while the People’s Assembly elections approach.

Al-Dusouki believes that simultaneously with these two matters, the announcement of this “large” investment, as it is promoted, is significant to send messages that the family still holds influence in Aleppo province and is in harmony with the regime.


The announcement can be interpreted as a sort of electoral propaganda and a tool to influence alliances in the People’s Assembly elections in Aleppo province.

Ayman al-Dusouki, Economic Researcher


Al-Dusouki believes that the intention to establish the cluster in the industrial city of Sheikh Najjar in Aleppo may aim to negatively impact attempts to build industrial cities in northern Syria outside the regime’s control by suggesting to industrialists that Aleppo will return as the industrial capital and that it is better for these industrialists and businessmen to return to settle their status and reserve a place for themselves in this “large” project.

In a study by the Omran Center for Strategic Studies on the People’s Assembly elections of 2020, it confirmed the success of more than 20 members of militia leaders and businessmen, some of whom serve as commercial fronts helping the regime evade US and European sanctions, in the legislative elections held in 2020.

Top of the “money sharks”

The name of the Qaterji family topped the list of “money sharks” during the recent years of war in Syria, following secret dealings with the Islamic State organization on one side and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the other, for the benefit of the Syrian regime.

After the start of the conflict in Syria, the Syrian regime relied on names that appeared “suddenly” in the world of economy, with no history in economic or financial work, and occupied economic positions and activities traditionally dominated by the al-Assad family, according to a study by the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, at the end of May 2022.

Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, managed the family’s activities as a partner and treasurer. The parallel shifts in the war economy and external sanctions led to the emergence of new war profiteers, along with remnants of the old elite active in the country, forming “fronts” for the family, according to the study.

The rise of the Qaterji family began after the withdrawal of George Haswani, the owner of the HESCO company for natural gas production, following the European sanctions imposed on him, allowing room for Hussam Qaterji and his brothers to take over the oil transportation sector from areas formerly controlled by the Islamic State and currently controlled by the SDF.

The family’s influence in the sector developed by forming a militia that fought alongside regime forces, primarily to protect their commercial convoys. In 2018, the Qaterji brothers (Hussam, Mohammad Baraa, and Ahmed Bashir) established the Arfada Petroleum Company, which acquired 80% of two companies established to create oil refineries that have not yet commenced despite getting approval since 2020.

At the end of 2022, a company called BS Company for Oil Services, headquartered in Lebanon, affiliated with Qaterji Group, was announced, allowing the company’s fuel stations to import crude oil and refine it in the Baniyas and Homs refineries, in exchange for financial fees paid to the government. The company was granted the right to sell the refined oil derivatives in the local market or export them.

Doubts about implementation

Qaterji proposed several large projects that remained ambitions without becoming reality due to challenges that hinder such investments, mainly sanctions, the ability to secure funding, providing energy sources, and competition among the regime’s business elites, according to researcher Ayman al-Dusouki.

The failure of the Qaterji family to implement the refinery project and the “shocks” to the family’s influence over the past four years suggest that the industrial cluster project is far beyond their capabilities amidst a complex map of players in the Syrian economic scene, according to an opinion article by Syrian researcher Eyad al-Jaafari, published on the Lebanese newspaper Al-Modon website on June 2.

Al-Jaafari believes that these data make the announcement by Qaterji Group closer to a public relations campaign intended to attract more interested parties to collaborate from various influential actors on Syrian soil.

Privileges conditional on loyalty

Qaterji family’s strategies to strengthen their influence feature “generous” spending to expand their base of popular and tribal loyalties and an extensive network of relationships they built with “state” officials, the ruling Baath party, security apparatuses, prominent merchants in Aleppo, and their close relations with Iranians and Russians, according to researcher Eyad al-Jaafari.

The researcher considered that the family’s acquisition of a contract allowing BS Company for Oil Services to supply industrialists and merchants with oil derivatives at prices comparable to global prices is an unprecedented privilege from the presidential palace. This is the first time a private company has entered the fuel distribution sector, which has been monopolized by the “state” for decades.

The ability of businessmen in regime-controlled areas to operate depends on two things: their reliability to the regime and their ability to secure what it needs without overstepping its red lines, meaning not inclining towards independence or playing unauthorized roles by the regime, as explained by researcher Ayman al-Dusouki to Enab Baladi.

In this regard, Qaterji obtained the regime’s reliability and provided services to it, in addition to the regime using Qaterji to reshape the businessmen community in Aleppo to be less independent and more reliant on the regime, according to al-Dusouki.

The researcher considered that the regime offers protection and governmental facilities to Qaterji and acknowledges his role within official structures such as the People’s Assembly and chambers of commerce and industry, but these privileges remain as long as Qaterji remains useful to the regime, in his opinion.

Who runs the family’s activities?

Hussam Ahmed Rushdi Qaterji, born in Raqqa in 1982 to a family originally from al-Bab in Aleppo province, serves as the Chairman of the Board of Qaterji International Group, which includes many companies specialized in various fields, according to a report by the Pro Justice organization specialized in pursuing war criminals, issued in 2020.

Hussam resides in Damascus and is considered one of the businessmen most supportive of the regime. He uses his relatives as commercial fronts to operate within his and his brothers Mohammad Baraa and Mohammad Agha Qaterji’s subsidiary companies.

Hussam handles public appearances and the management of Qaterji International Group publicly, while Mohammad Baraa Qaterji manages affairs “secretly” for the benefit of the Syrian regime.


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