“A shipment of drugs was seized from Syria” is no longer extraordinary news; it has become normal over the past years, because it is reported in the media almost daily, and it has sometimes surpassed military and political news. What is so unfortunate; however, is that the name of Syria is associated with Captagon shipments, and the transformation of the place where the oldest civilizations originated into a centre of threat to humanity.
This is not out of the context of the Assad regime’s retaliation against Syria and its people after the March 2011 revolution. Since that time, it has turned the country into a global centre for drug manufacturing and a shipment harbour to neighbouring countries and the world, after such an activity was limited – before the revolution – to protecting smuggling networks and producing limited quantities in secret factories run by people close to the Assad family.
Today, after about 12 years, the production of drugs has evolved, and the methods of promotion and smuggling have evolved with it, which led the United States to name Bashar al-Assad as “the leader of a drug gang.” On December 23, US President Joe Biden signed the defence budget submitted by Congress for the year 2023, which included a law to confront the Captagon manufactured by the Syrian regime and considered it a transient security threat.
Assad and Captagon
The drug trade has become one of the most profitable and popular sectors in the areas under the control of the Syrian regime, especially with the great facilities provided by the security branches and militia leaders to those responsible for this trade and to those working in the manufacturing of its materials.
The spread of hashish and narcotic pills is no longer limited to areas under the control of the Assad regime, or areas outside its control in Idlib, Aleppo countryside and the east of the Euphrates, but it has extended to neighboring countries first and then to the Gulf countries, and even reached the European continent and various parts of the world.
It seems that the statements made by former Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on June 22, 2011, in which he said that his regime will wipe Europe off the map and will go east and west, and that the sanctions imposed by the European Union on him are tantamount to war, carried meanings and purposes that began to unfold and emerge through the years of the revolution and war.
In implementation of the threats and intimidations of Almuallem, the Syrian regime sought to flood Europe with drugs. The Romanian police for example seized on August 30, 2020, the largest drug shipment in the country’s history coming from the port of Latakia, including 1.5 tons of cannabis and 751 kilograms of Captagon, worth about 60 million euros.
Italy also seized in July 2020 dozens of tons of Captagon pills coming on board a cargo ship set off from the port of Latakia, worth about one billion euros.
In addition, the Syrian National Army in the countryside of Aleppo, Greece, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan thwarted several attempts to smuggle drugs coming from the regime-controlled areas. The Hashemite Kingdom; however, had the largest share of those attempts, as hardly a month passes without foiling and controlling attempts to infiltrate and smuggle drugs into its territory.
Narcotics production in Syria
The Nidaa Post website obtained accurate information about the most prominent places of cultivation and manufacturing of drugs in Syria, after a long research trip during which it listened to dozens of testimonies from activists, military and civilians residing in the regime-controlled areas, followed by matching the information and authenticating it with various sources.
Nidaa Post’s investigation focused on three main elements: agriculture, industry, smuggling routes and local promotion. These will be reviewed as follows:
The Qusayr area in the southern countryside of Homs is considered the most embracing area for hashish farms. The cultivation of this material began after the Syrian regime and Hezbollah took control of it in June 2011. According to Nida Post sources, most of the farms are concentrated in villages located on the banks of the Orontes River and adjacent to the Lebanese border, such as Hawaik, Zaita,Qasr, Aqrabiyah, Diabiyah, Burhaniyah and Abu Houry.
The sources say that the cultivation process is supervised by experts from the Lebanese Bekaaregion and members of Hezbollah, and after the harvest is completed, it is transferred to a factory in the town of Al-Abboudiya, and then a network affiliated with the Fourth Division (led by Maher Assad- the president’s brother) transfers and distributes it inside Syrian territory.
There are also several hashish farms in Tartous governorate, the most prominent of which are located in the border villages with Lebanon such as Al-Kharabah, Bani Naim, Sheikh Jaber, Al-Runsiyah, Khirbet Al-Kurd, Al-Jawamisiyah, and in the Sheikh Badr area. Most of their production is marketed locally, because the coastal governorate is witnessing high demand of the stuff by the rest of the regions, especially in the summer.
In Damascus, the Fourth Division has a monopoly on the cultivation of hashish, and its farms are spread in the towns of Deir Khibia, Zabadani, Madaya, Kanaker, Al-Hijana and Zabdin, and in the western Qalamoun region.
To the east, hashish farms are spread in areas under the control of the regime and SDF alike, and are concentrated in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Hasaka, Manbij and Ain al-Arab in the countryside of Aleppo.
The regime and Hezbollah resorted to setting up factories and presses for Captagon in several areas throughout the Syrian territory, in order to increase production and facilitate smuggling operations to neighboring countries and the world.
These factories are concentrated in the southern region near the border with Jordan, in the Damascus countryside on the Lebanese border, as well as in the provinces of Latakia and Tartus, where seaports are located.
In the south, sources say, “Nidaa Post”: The province of Daraa includes nine centers for the manufacture of drugs, the largest of which is in the desalination plant near the town of Kharab al-Shahm, and in the neighborhood of Dahiya, Nawa, and Al-Lajat, in addition to two factories in the province of Suweida, such as those that were seized inside the home of Raji Falahout in the town of Atil.
Most of these factories are semi-automatic presses, while there are 3 or 4 automatic factories in the area, with a production capacity of about 400 Captagon tablets per day.
As for the manufacturing mechanism, our sources explain that each point includes a chemical expert and an assistant, in addition to five workers, working under the supervision of local militias linked to Iran, as well as leaders from Hezbollah.
The former leader of the opposition factions, who joined the Military Security Division after the “ settlement”, Imad Abu Zureik, and his cousin Ghassan Abu Zureik, are major drug traffickers in the province of Daraa, as they have a strong relationship with leaders from Hezbollah and officers from the Syrian regime who provide facilities for drug shipments as they pass through the checkpoints, especially the Mankat al-Hatab checkpoint of the Military Security Branch.
The former leader of the opposition factions, Mustafa al-Masalmeh, nicknamed“al-Kasem”, is also responsible for the headquarters of the purification plant in Kharab al-Lah and the smugglers working at this site, which is often the point of departure for drones loaded with narcotic substances that are sent to Jordan.
Al-Masalmeh leads a local militia affiliated with the Military Security Division, and has a close relationship with the head of the branch, Brigadier General Louay Al-Ali, and he also has relations with leaders in Hezbollah.
Neda Post sources indicate that the variety of narcotic substances produced in the southern laboratories, and that some of them are of poor quality and cheap, and this type is specially prepared for local marketing, and to be sent to Jordan through open crossings to cover the main shipments coming from Iran and Iraq, which includes crystal, cocaine and heroin.
The inferior materials are made from white powder obtained after grinding certain types of stones, and add alcohol and a small amount of crystal, as well as cannabis that is mixed with other herbs before being distributed locally.
In the Damascus countryside, Hezbollah has set up several factories in the nearby border areas with smuggling crossings, most notably in Qara, Rnakos, Assal al-Ward and Sargaya, in partnership with a local merchant named Hassan al-Daqo, while groups from the Baath Party and the Fourth Division are responsible for protecting those sites.
In addition, the factories operated by the “ Qaterji” group in the countryside of Aleppo and Hama, a source close to the group, the investigation team reported in the “Neda Post” that it has transferred in recent months 11 production lines and 26 medium-sized pistons for the recycling and packaging of narcotic grains and cannabis from farms owned by it in the countryside of Hama, to industrial facilities in the areas of Shaqif and Sheikh Najjar in Aleppo.
The group plans to distribute drugs from Aleppo to the Syrian opposition areas and then to Turkey, and to SDF-controlled areas and then to Iraq and then the Arabian Gulf, and according to our sources, this sector is run by a person named Mahmoud Raslan, a native of Aleppo.
The Syrian regime also established similar factories in the villages of Basa and Dweir al-Shawa in the countryside of Latakia, which are managed by people from the Assad family, where the production is transferred to warehouses belonging to Hafez Munther al-Assad in the village of Kalamkho to be packed and packed in containers, and then transferred to the seaport to be smuggled by sea.
Drug entry: The Syrian regime relies on a network of lines for the entry of raw materials and the transfer of drugs to neighbouring countries, including official border crossings as well as seaports.
The illegal crossings in the western Damascus countryside are one of the oldest, given Hezbollah’s control along the border between Lebanon and Syriaand, and because of the nature of the area, which is the scene of smuggling operations even before 2011.
Among the most prominent routes used by drug shipments in that region are the road between the town of Rankous and the towns of the Bekaa, and the road between the area of Ras al-Harf in the Bekaaand from it to the village of Al-Tufail up to Assal al-Ward, in addition to the roads connecting the towns of Falita and Qara of the Bekaa villages and the border crossing of Zamrani. Most of the shipments entering from these roads are marketed locally or are transported to the coastal region.
The foregoing is the first route for the entry of drugs into Syria. The second route is the widest in that it is aimed at the southern region. Shipments are assembled in the town of Ayta al-Fukhar in Lebanon and then transported to the Syrian border town of Jdeidat Yabous. From there, groups of the Fourth Division and Military Security are responsible for transporting drugs to the area of Al-Dimas, then to Sa ‘sa ‘, then to Khan Arnabah in the countryside of Quneitra, and then to Tal Shihab and Kharab al-Shahm, where they are finally prepared to be smuggled towards Jordan. In addition, the Badiyahroad connects the border areas with Iraq to the area of Al-Lajah, northeast of Dara’ a.
In Homs, Nidaa Post sources say that Shuja Al-Ali’a, leader in the so-called “National Defense” is considered the primary responsible person for receiving and distributing drug shipments. In addition to his task of promoting locally, he transfers a section of Captagon and hashish to the regime-controlled areas in Deir ez-Zor through cargo vehicles and tanks. This task is carried out by a leader named Jaafar Jaafar.
Besides, materials from Iran are sent through Iraqi territory such as crystal meth, heroin, cocaine, and other high-priced materials that enter Syrian territory with the intention of transporting them mainly to the Arab Gulf countries.
Distribution of drugs within Syria and to neighbouring countries: Jordan is the country most affected by the drugs of the Syrian regime, as it has been subjected to hundreds of smuggling attempts since the summer of 2018 and has already managed to thwart some of them.
Nidaa Post sources confirm that the villages of Tel Shehab, Koya, Beit Ara, Zamil, Kharab al-Shahmaland Al-Mata ‘iyeh, and the town of Naseeb and its crossing in Daraa represent an important point for the launching if the shipments towards Jordan, but the regime does not rely on smuggling from these areas as much as it depends on the countryside of Suweida, as most of these towns are inhabited and difficult to move in.
The sources explain that the smuggling of drugs from this area takes three main forms, the first of which is through the Naseeb border crossing, where narcotic substances are hidden inside the goods or in special places that are manufactured and added to the body of vehicles designed for this purpose.
The second method is the operation of foot groups in the rugged areas and in the valleys. Each group includes about 15 people carrying an estimated amount of 25 kilograms of Captagon and crystal meth. The job of these groups is to walk at night about three kilometres, for a wage of up to a thousand dollars per person in the event of success of the mission, while accompanied by four people carrying weapons to cover the withdrawal process in the event of the Jordanian border guards confront them.
The third method is to send drones carrying quantities of high-priced drugs specifically, and the desalination plant in the town of Kharab al-Shah is the main starting point for these drones.
In As-Suwayda, Hezbollah has established relations with drug dealers and leaders of groups supported by Assad regime security branches such as those led by Raji Falahout. Most smuggling operations in the governorate are carried out under the coverage of the head of the Military Intelligence Detachment in Salkhad Muhammad Ali Ghalia, nicknamed “Abu Shuaib,” who has great intelligence influence in the area neighbouring the Syrian Jordanian border.
A person named Marie Al-Ramthan is the man in chargz for smuggling drugs from As-Suwayda to Jordan, where the tribally supported Ramthancollects drugs that arrive from Damascus through the Badia road in the villages of Khirbet Awad, Al-Shaaband Umm Shama, southeast of As-Suwayda, before starting to smuggle them into the Kingdom of Jordan.
To the east, the national defense groups are responsible for distributing drugs in Deir ez-Zorgovernorate and bringing them into Iraqi territory through the Al-Bukamal crossing. This is supervised by the Iraqi militia commander, Firas, his deputy, Khalil al-Alwan, and the commander of the eastern sector, Hassan al-Ghadhban, in addition to Osama Najm al-Abdullah al-Habashi, a leader in the pro-Iranian tribal army militia, who is based in the village of Arkushi in the countryside of Raqqa.
Nidaa Post sources indicate that the National Defensemilitia has recruited a local network to promote within the areas of Deir ez-Zor under the control of the Syrian regime, and another task is to coordinate with SDF leaders to smuggle drugs to their areas of control, and these smuggling operations are carried out through boats crossing between the banks of the Euphrates River.
In the north, the northern region is the scene of competition between drug suppliers, specifically Hezbollah and the Qaterji Group, where the former has several smuggling lines, most notably in the towns of Nubul and Zahra, from which the shipments move towards Afrin to be distributed in the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib, and some of them are smuggled into Turkey.
While the Qaterji group has a line that extends from Deir Hafer to the city of Al-Bab through the city of Manbij, which is under the control of the SDF, and another from the Maskana area towards Raqqa and from there to Turkey and Iraq.
In addition, the Syrian regime is smuggling drugs to Europe specifically from the port of Latakia by sea, using fraudulent missions, and recruiting licensed shipping companies in Syria and other countries.
After its exposure, the Syrian regime resorted to innovative ways to smuggle drugs, such as hiding captagon bills in electrical cables, inside citrus fruits, in “matah” packages and baby milk. The regime smugglers got even to sectioning a bean into two parts and putting Captagon inside it, in an attempt to double its profits, which in 2021 amounted to about $6 .billion