Ten years of civil war have made Syria a fragmented field of ruin, but with one thing in common behind every front line: Captagon, a drug that has turned the country into a drug state.
The activator, initially associated with jihadists From the Islamic State (ISIS for its Arabic acronym), it generated an illegal industry worth 10 billion dollars, which is beneficial not only to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad but also to many of its enemies.
The rise of Captagon made Syria the newest drug state in the world, and its trade took root in neighboring Lebanon, whose economy has collapsed in recent years. This drug is by far the first product to be exported from Syria and bypasses all legal exports together, according to estimates taken from official data compiled by AFP.
Captagon is an amphetamine derivative for a drug that is supposed to treat narcolepsy or attention deficit disorder. Its ingredient is Ventylene. This illegal drug has spread throughout the Middle East and Saudi Arabia is its largest market.
AFP questioned more than 30 sources throughout its investigation, including former and current members of the security services in Syria and other countries, smugglers, activists, foreign diplomats and drug experts, to understand the scale of the phenomenon. At least 25 of them requested anonymity for security reasons.
“I could work non-stop for two or three days, which allowed me to double my salary and pay off my debts”
In Saudi Arabia, Captagon is often seen as a party drug, although its use extends well beyond the wealthy class. Many humble Saudis and migrant workers use this cheap, cheap drug without the stigma of alcohol in a Muslim country. With Captagon, “I could work non-stop for two or three days, which doubled my salary and helped me pay off my debts,” says Faisal, a newly married worker in his twenties. He says he spends 150 riyals (about $40) each week to buy Captagon pills. “I finished my first job exhausted at dawn.” Thanks to the drug, he can put off his other job as a driver.
An Egyptian construction worker told AFP he started taking the pills when his boss secretly put one in his coffee to make him work faster and longer. “Over time, my colleagues and I became dependent,” he admits.
A premium pill sold to the Saudi elite can fetch up to $25, but the lower quality ones are available for $1.
A road from Syria and Lebanon
The drug begins its journey in the areas less guarded by the authorities between Syria and Lebanon. A smuggler from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, wearing a mask with his eyes hidden behind dark glasses, tells AFP how to organize the shipments. “Usually four or five big fish come together and share the cost of a load 10 million dollars dollars, for example, to cover raw materials, transportation and bribes,” he explains in the middle of a vineyard.
“The cost is low and the profits are high,” this smuggler adds, specifying that even if only one in ten shipments goes well, “you still win.” »There is a group of more than 50 barons. They form a large network and they are Syrians, Lebanese and Saudis.”
Captagon smuggling extends through many countries and many of the major players have tribal ties, primarily through the Bani Khalid, a Bedouin federation stretching from Syria and Lebanon to Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In this way, the burden could remain under the influence of Bani Khalid from manufacturing in Syria to delivery in Saudi Arabia, according to established sources, including an intelligence officer, Syrian army defectors and a trafficker.
installation is growing
According to official data, more than 400 million pills were seized in the Middle East and other countries in 2021 alone. This year’s spells are expected to be even higher. Customs officials and those responsible for the fighting told AFP that every shipment that is intercepted reaches its destination. Anti-drug. This means that even starting at an average price of $5 per tablet, and with only four out of five loads reaching their destination, Captagon represents at least a $10 billion industry.
Syria is the origin 80% of traffic All over the world, according to those responsible for the security services, this trade represents at least three times their budgets. According to drug experts, the Syrian state is at the center of this smuggling in the areas under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
According to these specialists, the shadowy network of warlords and opportunists on whom the Syrian president relied to win the war has benefited greatly from the Captagon smuggling. Experts cite in particular the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which they say plays an important role in protecting smuggling along the Lebanese border.
“Syria is feeding its public treasury thanks to this parallel economy, which includes the manufacture and export of grain.”
Former advisor to the Syrian government
“Syria is in dire need of foreign currency and this industry is able to feed the public treasury thanks to the parallel economy, from importing raw materials to manufacturing and finally exporting” for tablets, a former adviser to the Syrian government. . The name that has been repeated over and over in AFP interviews is that of Maher al-Assad, brother of the Syrian president and de facto commander of the 4th Division, the army’s elite unit.
with candy machine
Several rebel groups close to Turkey have also recently jumped into the Captagon trade. The area is overrun by rebel groups. “It’s a jungle, everyone is hungry,” said one of those interviewed by AFP. According to this trafficker, the new traffic master in the area is Abu Walid Azza, the commander of the Sultan Murad faction in the Syrian National Army. Protorky group. He pointed out that “it has good relations with the Fourth Division, because it was previously installed in Homs,” adding that it “provides excellent quality tablets.”
Aside from chemicals, the most important investment in setting up a Captagon lab is a tablet press or candy machine. A Chinese website suggests a “Captagon tablet pressing machine” for $2,500, capable of making tens of thousands of tablets per hour.