Archive for the ‘UAE’ Category

OK, so the Dubai assassination team made regular phone calls on GSM devices during the operation. What numbers did they call? From which ones? Well, it looks like they both used prepaid SIM cards acquired in Austria and they called Austrian telephone numbers. Obviously, that’s partly explained by the fact that they probably talked among themselves, but the only reason to say that they called numbers in Austria would be that there were other numbers called, outside the group.

Strange. The Mumbai raiders’ <a href="telephony used both a virtual number service in the US, and DID numbers registered in Austria and pointing at a VoIP system. This could just be an artefact of a data set of two, of course, or that somebody’s Web shop is close to the top of the Google results.

PS, does anyone have recommendations for a good graphics/visualisation solution? I’m thinking of doing my own one of these. Specifically, I’ve not seen one yet that takes account of the time factor – there is one suspect who spent only 3 hours 40 minutes in Dubai.

It seems the UAE’s Antonov-12 ban is real. The shortage of inbound flights in the Viktorfeed continues; out of 57 overnight movements, in itself an unusual low, there were 10 inbounds after cleaning up the odd false positive. Here is a list:

South-Airlines STH7002 Erbil Sharjah scheduled 1600Z
Transaviaexport TXC1722 Kabul Sharjah scheduled 1500Z
Safi SFW205 Kabul Sharjah scheduled 1500Z
Sakavia AZG1115 Kandahar Sharjah arrived 0830Z
Beibars BBS1810 Kabul Sharjah arrived 0800Z
Russian Sky ESL9456 Kabul Sharjah arrived 0700Z
South-Airlines STH7006 Baghdad Intl. Sharjah 0300Z
Ababeel Avn BBE200 Riyadh Sharjah yesterday 2115Z

There were also two positioning flights by AVE/Phoenix Aviation 737s between Dubai and Sharjah. The significant thing here is that probably no An-12s were involved. South-Airlines has three, but it also has three Il-76, six An-24s and -26s, and an An-74. TXC has five aircraft, all Il-76s. Safi has one 767 and one 737. Sakavia has two Il-76, one An-26 and one An-12. Beibars and Russian Sky own 2 and 4 Il-76s respectively, and Ababeel has only one aircraft known to be active, an An-24RV.

So, the Antonov-12s have been run out of town. However, there is an interesting paradox here. What about our old friends from British Gulf International? They started all this back in the day, and they operate nothing but An-12s, six of them. At some point there was also an An-26 but this hasn’t been seen for some years.

And somehow, they are still sending off flights. Doing a quick SELECT COUNT(notes), flightno, destination FROM flights WHERE flightno LIKE "%BGI%" AND notes > '1231518600' GROUP BY destination; on the database, I find there have been 68 BGIA movements since 1630 last Friday, of which 62 were outbound, and 6 inbound, all to Sharjah. This is weird.

That’s 8.85 movements a day, which is achievable if half the aircraft made more than one trip a day – as long as they came back, of course. But they haven’t come back; there has been no BGIA inward flight since Friday. So where are the aeroplanes coming from?

It’s possible that BGIA has been sending other An-12 operators’ aircraft out of the UAE using its call sign. But it’s still quite a lot. I put together a chart to visualise the whole strange phenomenon…

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As always, click on it to interrogate the data. Meanwhile, reader Ajay, who desperately needs his own blog, has a suggestion for where the scene might reconvene – Guinea, where the longstanding French-sponsored dictator died over Christmas, leading immediately to a military coup, and where there is a huge airfield with a 10,826 foot runway (that’s longer than Heathrow), which the Soviet air force used in the 70s and 80s as a staging post and a base for Tu-95 maritime patrol planes.

It’s an idea; but West Africa is not quite as crazy as it was ten years ago. There’s the option of getting into the cocaine trade, but if Viktor Bout can get in trouble dealing with FARC, you have to wonder if the small fry will be up for it.

I’m getting reports that the UAE authorities have revoked permission to fly for all Antonov-12s, and the substantial fleet based on Dubai and Sharjah has been given notice to quit last night. Apparently the proximate cause was a spate of embarrassing and perilous runway excursions, as well as the recent loss of an Antonov-12 with BGIA in Iraq, working for DHL.

Of course I’m monitoring all movements through the Viktorfeed. So far, I’ve noticed a spike of activity overnight followed by a very quiet day; which is roughly what you’d expect if all the Antonovs just left, like the dolphins in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Last night saw over 150 movements, and tellingly they were almost all outward bound. But so far I’ve not detected any pattern in their destinations; they seem to have flown their usual routes and not returned, so the total fleet has scattered across South-Western Asia.

If this is so, a lot will be in Afghanistan (Kabul, Bagram, Herat and Kandahar) and Djibouti tonight, with a few in Kurdistan. This is going to be a serious problem for quite a few people, notably the coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much passenger activity is now carried in old 737s by AVE/Phoenix Aviation and KAMAir, but with the exception of the Ilyushin 76s, every significant airfield in Afghanistan gets several An-12 runs a day.

It’s going to be interesting to see where they end up, especially the BGIA Boyz, what with being an all-Antonov 12 operation and all. Back to Ostend? Surely not. West Africa gets kinda slow these days, and it’s a long slow haul to Colombia for an An-12. Moldova cleaned up its act. Perhaps Beirut, or somewhere in the Caucasus – which would be off the trade routes a bit. Or maybe they’ll set up a completely new operation somewhere with a long runway and no government, a pirate state?

Remind me to have a look at the airfields of Somalia. However, a search of the logs shows something I hadn’t spotted; “Star Air Aviation” has sent off a whole string of flights from Dubai since Thursday, some eleven, all of them to Karachi. And none have come back. Needless to say, the nearest operator in the UAE to that name doesn’t officially have any Antonovs and has a radically different ICAO call sign…

But if anyone’s wondering where all the old Russian crates came from, get in touch. You can consider this an Operation Firedump alert.

Viktor Indicted

After not much happened for a while, charges have been filed against Viktor Bout in a US court.

The indictment charges Viktor Bout with four terrorism offenses, including conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.

Prosecutors said he was offering a deadly arsenal of weaponry: more than 700 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of guns, high-tech helicopters, and airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles. The indictment said his price-tag was $15 million to $20 million.

You can get the document here, at the CTB. The document specifically mentions two cargo planes he apparently produced a brochure (!) on, explaining how they could be used for accurate airdrops into the Colombian backwoods. I’d really love to know which aircraft they were, but there is nothing in the document that helps, and practically all types in the network are capable of airdropping to some degree or other. (An12, An24/26, Il-76…even the An124, if they can get hold of one, can do it, although it would be a tad dramatic.)

Meanwhile, there’s been a significant increase in the proportion of flights we’re logging from Dubai and Sharjah to various war zones that are carried out by Transavia Export of Minsk, which some think was the first Bout company of them all. It would be nice if the authorities in Sharjah didn’t let planes belonging to folk like this leave for unstated destinations; the night of the 5th-6th of May saw no less than four departures to “unknown” or “ZZZ”, including one Phoenix Aviation/AVE, one Transavia Export, and two South-Airlines.

An interesting couple of mystery-jet stories – last week saw an aircraft using a Flying Dolphin/Dolphin Air callsign (ICAO: FDN), the company in Sharjah that took over the assets of Viktor Bout’s Santa Cruz Imperial and that continues to deal with Phoenix Aviation, pass through Dubai en route to Baghdad. Not that unusual, but interestingly it was bound for Al-Muthanna, the old airfield next to the Green Zone, not Baghdad International Airport (or SDA for Saddam Airport, as it’s still known by ICAO). You might well wonder who was aboard.

The week before, Kyrgyz-registry/Sharjah-based outfit Tenir Airlines – ICAO TEB – who fly regularly between the UAE and Iraq did something interesting. They sent one of their Il-76s from Sharjah to Baghdad International and from there on to Kabul. Now there’s a trip. Tenir, according to Aerotransport.org, has three Il-76s, all from Moldovan operator Airline Transport Incorporation. This company, which was suddenly wound up in 2005, had a sizeable fleet of Ilyushins, which were transferred to companies including Click Airways (a regular on the Sharjah-Baghdad run), Jet Line International, and Tenir. The association with JLI went pretty deep – when their aircraft ER-IBR crashed into Lake Victoria on the 23rd of March, 2005, it was operating with Jet Line’s documents, or possibly the other way around. ATI’s planes sometimes used the callsign “Air Trans”, a company that doesn’t exist but has often cropped up being used by Viktor Bout’s planes, and they also traded aircraft with Aerocom (and Jet Line). Two of the three Il-76s owned by Tenir have been reported under this designation.

Those are EX-065 (serial number 53460832) and EX-071 (43452546). The other is EX-075 (53463908).

In other news: Firedump-listed 727 UN-B2701 photographed in Nizhni Novgorod on the 26th of November. Something tells me that one is safe.

Update, 03/01/2007: Now we know how UN-B7201 got to Budapest, anyway. Carrying a Kazakh football team, apparently.

Bleg to Fr8ter

Commenter Fr8ter says Kuwait has banned Kyrgyz-registered (EX-) aircraft from landing or overflying the country, which is significant becase all flights from the south to Iraq enter Iraqi airspace over Kuwait. But the Dubai and Sharjah airport sites continue to show several flights a day to Baghdad and elsewhere, operated by British Gulf International and Click AW – whose aircraft are all EX-registry. Any clues?

Bleg to Fr8ter

Commenter Fr8ter says Kuwait has banned Kyrgyz-registered (EX-) aircraft from landing or overflying the country, which is significant becase all flights from the south to Iraq enter Iraqi airspace over Kuwait. But the Dubai and Sharjah airport sites continue to show several flights a day to Baghdad and elsewhere, operated by British Gulf International and Click AW – whose aircraft are all EX-registry. Any clues?

Remind me not to go back to Dubai if at all possible. It’s what happens when you leave the keys where the postmodernists can get at them, a formless mass of rapid urbanisation running along the coast from the border with Sharjah to beyond the docks at Jebel Ali. “Sprawl” doesn’t describe it, because sprawl implies that there is a city centre out of which suburbs are expanding. Here, the whole thing is centre, or rather multiple artificial centres, with infill.

Construction rages everywhere. You can buy off-plan, without money up front, borrowing in any currency you can imagine, with a guarantee that you won’t have to make payments until you move in. You’re not expected to move in, but rather to sell at a profit before the thing is even built. John Kenneth Galbraith remarked in The Great Crash that one of the most impressive features of capitalism is the ingenuity with which it relieves the speculator of all the burdens of ownership except the capital gain. This kind of baroque finance is usually the mark of a wild speculative boom, and as if more proof was needed, the boom is now too big to fit Dubai itself. The biggest developer, Emaar, is currently advertising “the Portuguese lifestyle at Canyon Views” – Canyon Views, you discover only if you read the small print, is actually located near Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

And what buildings. The only common denominator is size, the huger the better. But strangely, as huge as they may be, they rarely if ever evoke the dignity and awe of the monumental. The rampant skyscraper-building somehow doesn’t create the gut excitement of the City of London or the skyline of New York, just noise. See our shopping mall, six times the size of Brent Cross, its steel frame concealed under faux-adobe lumps and Andalusian detailing, as a vast dark glass office tower hurtles past..but where you might expect a three-story Corbusier pilotis, are a set of sand-coloured Doric columns, flanking the entrance to a white marble lobby the size of an airfield, decorated in the taste of Saddam Hussein and airconditioned to the approximate temperature of Dick Cheney’s heart…while illuminated banners for another shopping mall beseech you to “Visit China! See Andalusia! Travel to Persia!” and a vast likeness of the late Ruler, Sheikh Zayed al-Maktoum, looms from out of a UAE flag on a giant billboard, chops set in a cruelly fatherly grin. He’s perched on another neoclassical pillar, too, although Roman civilisation never extended here. Presumably some signification of imperial might attaches to it. As the sun sinks in to the soupy air, the whole semiologist’s smorgasbord is spotlit from below with Yves Klein blue..

Travel to Persia, indeed. It’s only a day’s sail on a ferry or half an hour’s flying time away. Huge stacks of shipping containers marked IRISL for Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines await forwarding at the docks. Iranian dance music is a current fashion (it sounds like 90s Italian house with an odd Russian touch of nationalist/football chant and some folk influences), but presumably official discourse would rather not call attention to a profitable but despised neighbour. That is, in fact, a motif for the whole place. The monopoly telecoms operator blocks more URLs than China, but goes to particular lengths to discourage VoIP usage for crude financial reasons. But, with effort and clue, most sites are reachable; when YouTube was banned recently, the censors somehow forgot to bar its www2 and www3 mirror servers. Tor and various VPN solutions are widely used, and the locations of uncensored WLANs circulate.

As with all tyrannies, what they want you to do is forget. Forget that the censorship is obvious and widely circumvented, that Iran is to the north and Saudi Arabia the west, that 90 per cent of the population are not citizens of the UAE and are subject to deportation at any moment, for example if their employers wish it. Forget that most of those are desperately poor subcontinental building workers, dependent on the boom’s continuation. Forget that booms do not continue. Forget what happens if they don’t want to leave.

Forget you’re even in Dubai. This is a desert with daytime temperatures of 40 degrees C, where at this time of year the minimum temperature is in the high thirties. Everything must always be airconditioned, especially as it’s usually built of glass curtain walling. Water is desalinated, or to put it another way, produced from oil, but every new building has lawns and palm trees. Golf courses are big business. Next door in Sharjah, 10 kilometres away, water is in short supply and delivered by tanker. At nine o’clock at night, you can be stuck in a traffic jam of water trucks going West, away from the border, to supply the builders with water to mix their concrete. No public transport worth speaking of exists.

The best meal, in fact the only local meal, I had was in a club for hardhat British ex-pats, the sort of place you go for the all-day breakfast, satellite football and Guinness. Elsewhere it’s all global gunk, a bit of Indian, a bit of Thai, a bit of sushi. Although you can eat whilst observed by a four-storey and historically inaccurate statue of Buddha, and probably witness the crucifixion of a gorilla if you’re willing to spend a little cash and make the effort, it’s only realistically going to be terrible.

The key to the local economy isn’t oil, it’s everyone else’s oil. Everything you see has been built since the Jebel Ali container terminal and the tanker-repairing yards opened in 1976. More recently they built another container terminal, and then the giant airport.

Viktor Bout’s last-known address, by the way, was Villa 5, Cornish Road, Coral Compound, Sharjah. I didn’t go.

So George Galloway’s involved himself in the deportation of one Khalid Rashid, a Pakistani national deported from South Africa in unusual circumstances. He was rousted and taken to an air force base, where he was placed aboard a plane chartered by the Ministry of Home Affairs which took him…well, we don’t know where it took him, because there’s no sign he actually arrived in Pakistan.

The South African courts are trying to force the government to give answers, for example the registration of the plane, where it went, when, and where the chap now is. In the meantime, files on the case were lost and recovered by a samosa seller in bizarre circumstances.

Very interestingly indeed, he seems to have vanished with the assistance of an aircraft registered in the UAE. Oh, really? Despite the fact that the Ministry was ordered to disclose the aircraft registration, and it was (obviously) a UAE one, nobody’s published it.

But if we rule out Emirates, which seems fair, Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi Air, as well as the UAE Royal Flight, that doesn’t leave very many options. For a start, the UAE Government’s Dubai Air Wing has several Boeing Business Jets (737-BBJ) and two 747s. There are a couple of freight-only operators, who for various reasons I leave out, Falcon Express of Iraq fame, who only have Fokker F27s and can be left out…and the two high dubiosity cases, Dolphin Air (ex-Flying Dolphin, ex-Santa Cruz, and on the UN blacklist), and AVE/Phoenix Aviation, of vile reputation for their assorted CBJ/Viktor Bout links.

Both have aircraft that might have been involved. Phoenix has two Boeing 737s registered in the UAE, A6-PHA and A6-PHC. The first, serial no. 23444, is currently operating for Iraqi Airways. The second, serial no. 23626, isn’t. There’s also a Boeing 767-200ER, A6-PHZ, serial no. 23280.

Dolphin, meanwhile, has the UAE-registered B737s A6-ZYA, A6-ZYB and A6-ZYC. -ZYC, serial no. 22679, is currently working for Iraqi Airways. -ZYA, 21926, is leased to Trans Air Congo. And -ZYB, 21928, is still with Dolphin. Then there’s a 707, A6-ZYD, serial no. 20718, and an Airbus A300-600R, A6-ZYI, serial no. (*wait for it*) 666.

Spot the Difference

Which story is the satire?

Northern Irish, Serbs, Hutus Granted Homeland in West Bank, or Umm Alquwain, the smallest of the emirates, was the only one to bother to appoint voters.

An elected legislature chosen by an appointed electorate? Surely not. Not even Austria-Hungary did anything that weird. (Although, present-day Dubai and Vienna circa 1900 do have some things in common – people who are so poor they rent a bed for half the day.)