Arms dealers located in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Gaza and Iraq are using Facebook to sell a wide range of weapons, missiles and tanks to various parties in the Middle East who need them, from Kurdish rebels to Islamic State (Isis) fighters and Hamas paramilitaries.
On Tuesday 23 February, the Syrians News website and other Arabic online sites broke the news that it is possible to buy US weapons meant for the CIA and the Pentagon on Facebook – as well as Soviet-era grenade launchers – on a page belonging to arms dealers located in Idlib, Syria.
The news was picked up by a couple of UK national newspapers including The Mirror, and Facebook quickly took the page down. However, an investigation by IBTimes UK has uncovered an additional 11 other communities and shops dedicated to supplying firearms to people in the Middle East on Facebook, and the traders are catering to a wide audience − pretty much anyone at all who would like to buy a firearm or military equipment.
The pages are listed under a variety of categories including "Community", "Company", "Sports League", "Shopping/Retail", "Outdoor Gear/Sporting Goods" and even "Non-governmental Organisation (NGO)", and the title of each page states clearly in Arabic that the purpose of the page is to sell firearms, either to people in a specific city or country or to sell weapons to the peoples of the wider Arabic world.
Each page features a plethora of informational and sales posts from the owners, including videos of Middle Eastern people testing assault weapons in front of a crowd of people – including children – as well as a video of Saudi sheikhs in the desert watching an automatic rifle demonstration.
The pages can be divided into two categories − pages for the sales of hand guns and assault rifles, and pages selling heavy-duty military weapons such as bazookas, missiles, tanks, grenades and body armour.
Most of the pages also allow visitors to make their own posts, and the visitors to these pages are putting up ads to sell their own guns, ammunition and even body armour stolen from the Iraqi Army, complete with prices and phone numbers, presumably so that people can call them or message them on Whatsapp.
And then there are users posting "Want to Buy" posts − "Peace, mercy and blessings of God, I'm from Egypt and I want to buy a 16 mm rifle or a 9mm pistol... as soon as possible. Please send me a private message thanks," a user posted on the "Here the sale of all types of weapons - arms shop" Facebook page, which is located in Cairo.
About 50% of the pages say that they are located in Egypt, while the other pages are catering to people in Gaza, Tripoli in Libya, Baghdad and Kirkuk in Iraq and Damascus in Syria.
Free delivery if you buy a tank
"Other colours available and delivery is free if you pick up in Cairo or Giza," one of the pages writes on a post showing pictures of several types of tanks, while another page called "The first market for the sale of heavy and light weapons in Damascus and the Middle East", whose motto is"To serve the Islamic Jihad" (see slide show above), boasts about its supply of individually wrapped missiles.
Visitors are not just coming from the Middle East. In one post, a man named Ali Di Maria posts that he is living in Mauritania in north Africa. Di Maria states that he would like to buy some 9mm pistols and hopes that "his brothers" will give him a good deal.
What is perhaps most alarming is just how many people seem to be posting sales posts and Want to Buy posts looking for hand guns and assault rifles, as well as the plethora of military products available to sell, many of which clearly seem to be Soviet-era shoulder-mounted missile launchers and highly explosive tank shells.
Seeing that we were able to find these pages simply by searching for the terms "Buy weapons" in Arabic, it is clear that Facebook does not have enough monitors who speak and read Arabic, or sophisticated enough algorithms to detect this content on the social network. Perhaps the fight against Islamic extremists will require Facebook to take more action in these areas.
IBTimes UK has contacted Facebook for comment and is waiting for a response.