A week later, on Aug. 21, Chams Eddine got another tip-off. Six Syrian-made cargo trucks destined for Saudi Arabia from Lebanon were stopped just as they were about to cross the border… Then two more Syrians destined for Saudi Arabia were stopped at the airport with 8 kg of the stuff in their luggage.
Turkish authorities have also identified a rise in Captagon production in Syria. In May, they seized 7 million pills en route to Saudi Arabia, according to Saudi media.
Even before the conflict, Saudi Arabia received about seven tonnes of Captagon in 2010, a third of world supply, according to UNODC figures.
In one month, Lebanese authorities confiscated more than $200 million worth of a potent amphetamine.
A pill that costs pennies to produce in Lebanon retails for up to $20 a pop in Saudi Arabia, where some 55 million Captagon tablets are seized a year — a number that even Saudi officials admit amounts to only 10% of the overall total that actually makes it into the kingdom.
A member of a prominent drug trading family in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where much of that country’s drug production and smuggling takes place, told Reuters that demand from the Gulf kingdom had increased since then, and Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates were also big consumers.
The trader said production in Lebanon fell 90 percent in 2013 from two years earlier, and wholly attributed the drop to a shift in production to Syria. He said some production might also have moved to Syria from Turkey during the past year.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are both major backers of the Sunni Jihadists in the Syrian Civil War. That civil war has made it possible to set up extensive drug labs in Syria. The trajectory is fairly clear. Fund militias and you can set up shop there.
Khabib Ammar, a Damascus-based media activist, said Syrian fighters involved with the drugs trade were buying weapons with the money they made.
A drug control officer in the central city of Homs told Reuters he had observed the effects of Captagon on protesters and fighters held for questioning.
“We would beat them, and they wouldn’t feel the pain. Many of them would laugh while we were dealing them heavy blows,” he said. “We would leave the prisoners for about 48 hours without questioning them while the effects of Captagon wore off, and then interrogation would become easier.”