Middle Eastern newspaper The Daily Star has reported that from September 2014 to March 2015 it frequently received reports from quarry workers about machinery thefts in Arsal, Lebanon.
The equipment – including bulldozers, drills and shovels – is reportedly being used to strengthen Islamist militant positions in Qalamoun. Specifically, it was said that the pilfered plant is being used to clear terrain, open routes and build war zone fortifications, such as earth berm checkpoints, earth enclosures for vehicles and possibly a bunker.
It was noted that the equipment has not been used as weapons, but this did not curb the dismay and outrage of quarry owners. “This is an insult to the quarry workers,” Mahmoud Fliti, one of the quarry owners, told the newspaper. “It’s an assault on all the people in Arsal.”
In an interview with The Daily Star earlier this year, one of the quarry workers, Khaled Ghadade, said the raids were occurring on an almost daily basis at the Arsal stone quarries located near the Syrian frontier. “The thefts happen at night and during the day, and even when quarry workers are working,” he said. “Sometimes the militants come and threaten the quarry owners if they don’t give [up] their tools.”
Curiously, though, both Ghadade and Fliti said stolen machinery has always been returned. As an example, Fliti explained how three bulldozers stolen from his quarry in early May had reappeared the following week. “They [the militants] usually use them [the bulldozers] for a week, or 10 to 15 days,” the quarry owner said.
“With the start of the winter, they took [the] bulldozers and kept them for a long time – a month, two months maybe. A few days after the Qalamoun battles started, they [started] taking them again. Perhaps they are moving to areas where they need to build more fortifications,” Fliti speculated.
Heavy vehicle theft in Australia
Capital equipment theft is an issue faced by quarrying and mining industries throughout the world, including Australia.
According to statistics released in February this year by the South Australia-based National CARS (Comprehensive Auto-theft Research System) Project, heavy vehicle thefts in Australia increased 23 per cent between 2004 and 2014, largely due to a 45 per cent rise in plant and equipment thefts.
In 2014, 1873 heavy vehicles were stolen across Australia with a total estimated value of $51.2 million. Plant and equipment thefts accounted for 37 per cent of this, with 62 per cent representing heavy truck thefts and the remaining one per cent classified as thefts of “unknown heavy vehicles”.
CARS is funded by Australia’s National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, a joint initiative of Australian governments and the insurance industry.