Production, abuse and smuggling Drugs spreading in Syria
Enab Baladi’s investigation team
Dia Odeh/ Murad Abdul Jalil/ Osama Abu Zeid
Adel, 30, left Harasta, his hometown, at the beginning of the Syrian revolution and moved to Rukn al-Din neighborhood, Damascus, to work in a sewing shop for 60,000 Syrian pounds, he told Enab Baladi.
Adel, who asked to remain anonymous for social considerations, said that he had to support his mother and five siblings after his father passed away. He stated that life hardships caused him to start smoking hashish and become a drug addict.
“I used to smoke hashish on occasions and during evenings with friends, but later it became a daily habit. A single hashish cigarette makes you forget your heavy burdens,” he added.
Adel continued smoking hashish, which is a natural narcotic, even after leaving Syria, where the use of narcotics and stimulants became widespread.
The areas under the regime’s control are no longer the main incubator of drug trafficking, as the phenomenon became almost spread in all Syrian cities and towns. The war helped drug traffickers and smugglers to prosper, and gave drug users more pretexts to immerse in the habit.
Although there are no precise figures and statistics to diagnose the phenomenon in Syria, Enab Baladi managed to delve into the issue and make contacts with several sources in areas controlled by the regime, the opposition factions or the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to unveil the facts about the spread of narcotics in Syria.
The regime combats drug trafficking by media
The Anti-Narcotics Department of the Ministry of the Interior has consistently announced the seizure of large quantities of Captagon and hashish in various areas controlled by the Syrian regime, without disclosing the source of the drugs. This may suggest that drug trafficking activities has been intensified by some individuals who found a convenient environment in Syria to promote these substances among youngsters, due to deteriorating economic and social conditions that swept the country as a result of years of war.
|Drug prices in area under the control of the Syrian regime
One kilo of hashish costs 175,000 Syrian pounds
200 pills of “Love corset” (Captagon) cost about 30,000 Syrian pounds
One Captagon pill (the two crescents) costs 1,500 Syrian pounds
In recent months, officials in the regime have issued statements confirming the spread of drug abuse among young people. The head of the Department of Drug Control in the Ministry of Health, Magda al-Homsi, said that hashish and stimulants are the most popular narcotic substances among Syrian youth.
Al-Homsi told Sputnik, in March, that the ministry has no accurate statistics about drug users in Syria, but pointed out that the numbers are increasing, especially among young people, university students and in schools. She insisted that such phenomenon intruded into the Syrian society due to years of war that resulted in smuggling large quantities of narcotics to the country.
On March 27, Criminal Court Judge Majid al-Ayoubi told el-Watan newspaper that the phenomenon of drug abuse has recently increased, especially among university and school students, for both young man and women. Al-Ayoubi revealed that drug abuse cases constitute 60 percent of the totality of lawsuits pending in courts and described drug abuse as a “rare phenomenon.”
According to statistics released by the Ministry of the Interior in June, 2008, 3,329 persons were referred to court on charges of dealing in and trafficking drugs, while 679,740 kg of hashish, more than 1,875,000 narcotic pills, and 21,323 kg of cannabis, in addition to 18 kg of raw materials used in drug manufacturing, were seized.
As a result of this situation, questions were raised about the source of narcotics and the way they are circulated among young people, despite constant security campaigns, amid accusations against figures related to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah of being responsible for major drug smuggling activities.
“Syria is considered as a clean country in terms of drug cultivation, production and manufacturing, however, it is universally classified as a drug-transit country by virtue of its geographical location,” said Mohammed al-Shaar, Minister of Interior in the regime’s government.
A source familiar with drug smuggling activities, who asked to remain anonymous for security considerations, informed Enab Baladi that “hashish and narcotic pills come from Hezbollah-controlled areas in Bekaa, and smuggled to areas dominated by the Syrian regime via two circuits. While the first smuggling circuit is undertaken by figures affiliated with the ruling party, the National Defense, and The Qalamoun Shield Forces (QSF) (affiliated to al-Assad forces), the second smuggling route is insured by trafficking drugs through security barriers dispersed along the road taken by smugglers from Homs and its countryside as well as east of al-Qalamoun.”
The source added: “The cost of drug trafficking at security checkpoints is $ 5,000, which is called the road opening. Following this practice, a drug trafficker pays the aforementioned amount of money to the officers in the checkpoint in exchange for opening the road during certain hours in the day to ensure the passage of vehicles carrying the substances without inspection.
The Jaramana suburb, near Damascus, is considered as “a main location for drugs storage and delivery between traffickers,” according to the same source who pointed out that narcotics are delivered to the most powerful trafficker (the big boss) in Jaramana, before starting the process of distribution and handing the drugs to smaller traffickers. The source also noted that one kilo of hashish costs 175,000 Syrian pounds, while 200 pills of the “Love corset” (Captagon) cost about 30,000 Syrian pounds. Besides, one narcotic pill (called the lens or the two crescents) is sold at 1,000 to 1500 Syrian pounds.
Hashish and Captagon in the countryside of Aleppo
During the control of ISIS over areas in eastern and northern countryside of Aleppo, and following the interference of the Free Syrian Army in 2016, trafficking hashish and narcotic pills became popular. Drug trafficking activities were no longer restricted to a specific area, but rather have been transformed to a web of drug trade, crossing military barriers all over Syria.
The General Commander of the National Police, Major General Abdel Razzaq Aslan, said that the narcotics “are transferred through traffickers in the northern rural areas, and the police forces have monitored distribution points in Azaz.” Aslan accused the regime and “members belonging to ISIS and PKK” of their distribution and the promotion of their consumption.
The police chief had pointed in a previous interview with Enab Baladi to “secret caches, cars and collective as well as individual means of transport, through which the drug transfer operations are carried out after hiding the drugs between other products that do not raise suspicions, in addition to smuggling them through boats across the Euphrates river under the pretext of fishing.
From the beginning of 2017 until November 2018, the arrests that have been announced by the military factions in the countryside of Aleppo, including the city of al-Bab on November 18, have not stopped. Al-Bab Police and Public Security Command said via its official Facebook page that its affiliated Anti-Narcotics Department arrested one of the accused people of drug trafficking and promotion, and confiscated a large quantity of drugs.
The Police Command added that it had conducted an investigation with the accused person and would refer him to trial with the confiscated narcotics in order to “complete investigations.” It also asked the residents to cooperate with the police forces in the city of al-Bab to “track and arrest drug traffickers and drug abusers.”
The aforementioned incident was followed by a similar one, about which Turkey said that it had seized an ambulance in Kilis Province, carrying 20 kilograms of hashish, adding in a statement reported by Turkish media that the vehicle was coming from the Turkish Çobanbey Crossing in front of the al-Rai Border Crossing from the Syrian side.
According to the police chief, “narcotics are entered through the roads between the liberated northern countryside and the areas of the Syrian Democratic Forces’ militia on the one hand, and al-Assad’s regime on the other, along with quantities that have been stored before the deployment of police forces in the region, due to the repercussions of the phase of chaos that prevailed at an earlier time.”
However, a military source in the countryside of Aleppo (who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons) told Enab Baladi that: “officers affiliated to the military factions operating in the northern countryside of Aleppo are carrying out the smuggling operations of these narcotics in exchange for money.”
“The security barriers deployed on the main roads in the region have a role in this trade through facilitating and overlooking the quantities that are mainly smuggled from al-Assad-controlled areas as part of the medicines needed by the region’s pharmacies,” he added.
In addition to trade and smuggling, the Sultan Murad Division of the Free Syrian Army operating in the area had seized, in early June 2017, lands planted with cannabis in the village of al-Jalat, which is administratively affiliated to the city of Manbij, with an area of one acres planted by one of the displaced people in the region.
The chief of the National Police said at that time that: “A field on the banks of the Euphrates, planted with cannabis, had been spotted and completely destroyed. The farmers were arrested and referred to the judiciary.” He added that “the police forces have criminal security departments spread in all areas that are concerned with following up this issue accurately. This phenomenon will be reduced on the short term.”
According to the police chief, the “suspicious activities are still part of individual activities by heartless people who serve the interest of parties outside the region, to eliminate the social structure in it.” He considered that “this phenomenon did not reach the level of an organized crime.”
Media activist Ali al-Ahmad, a young man from the town of Dabiq in northern Aleppo, attributes the spread of drugs and cannabis in the region to “the weakness of the religious faith of most young people, along with the limited controlled lands and spaces, as the region has become almost besieged between the Syrian Democratic Forces and al-Assad’s forces.”
Al-Ahmad called on the military factions operating in the region to “impose the most severe penalties on cannabis and drugs abusers, as this is part of the responsibility of the factions and the police.”
From the point of view of Major General Abdel Razzaq, the main reason for the narcotics’ spread in this period is their cheap prices, supported by “anti-revolutionary” groups, in addition to “the addiction of section of citizens to drugs during the period of security chaos, and the absence of the supervisory authority at that time.”
Raqqa… Drug promotion and abuse despite the Syrian Democratic Forces’ security grip
As for the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the abuse and trade of hashish and drugs has turned into a major phenomenon and expanded with ISIS’s tight control over most areas. The same phenomenon occurred during its control over areas in northeastern Syria, especially in the city of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor Governorate.
With the lack of accurate information related to this phenomenon in northeast Syria, previous media reports have shed the light on it. The reports have mainly talked about the spread of hashish cultivation in the areas of Tell Abyad, Ayn al-Arab (Kobanî) and areas adjacent to the Euphrates River, under the supervision of Kurdish forces that earn a portion of the turnout of the hashish production.
A source close to the Syrian Democratic Forces told Enab Baladi that the cultivation of hashish and poppies has been spread during ISIS’s control over Raqqa in 2013 and the following years.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, added that the areas that are mostly known for the cultivation of hashish and poppies are al-Ukairichi in the southern countryside of Raqqa, Raqqa Samra in the eastern countryside and Suluk in the northern countryside.
According to the source, “the cultivation of hashish in the city of Raqqa had been very popular during the control of ISIS, because cannabis is easy to hide and its price has decreased after the opening of the borders with Turkey, which is known for its open market and the easy smuggling operation. In contrast, during the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, “the hashish promotion has decreased because of the liquor’s return to the markets,” the source clarified.
In addition to the aforementioned, Raqqa has also been witnessing the spread of narcotic drugs and central nerve analgesics. The source explained that despite several attempts by the Health Committee of the Raqqa Civil Council to prevent pharmacies from selling narcotic drugs under the risk of closure and penalties, drug traffickers are still selling drugs but “secretly.”
Deir ez-Zor… “pills” are sold in pharmacies
The phenomenon has surpassed the border of Raqqa Governorate, and spread in other areas held by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in north-east of Syria to Deir ez-Zor, the city that part of it is controlled by the Syrian regime.
Salama al-Hussein, media activist in Deir ez-Zor and member of the Euphrates Post platform, stated that regime-held areas and the areas of the Syrian Democratic forces are witnessing a wide spread of drugs. However, SDF areas are the most affected because of population density, while al-Assad areas have less population because of destruction and arrests.
Al-Hussein explains to Enab Baladi that the spread of drugs in SDF-held areas is due to the so-called “drug dealers,” who are supported by leaders of the Kurdish forces and who are selling drugs to teenagers “either pills or cigarettes.”
The methods of selling and spreading narcotic pills have become different. The selling process usually involves people exchanging money for drugs in certain places. However, pharmacies are now selling Tramadol and Captagon pills, but in a non-public and random way.
The cities of Manbaj and al-Hasakah are the main source of narcotic pills. The activist pointed out that officers of the Syrian Democratic Forces are paving the way for dealers. Some of them are carrying the narcotics in their cars so as not to be found during checkpoints inspection.
Enab Baladi tried to contact SDF in order to verify the above mentioned information, but it was not able to do so. The security force of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Asayish) announced several times that it has managed to seize considerable quantities of narcotic pills, which were heading to SDF held areas.
In August 2018, Asayish announced the arrest of two hashish dealers in al-Hasakah Governorate. The security force has posted on its Facebook page that two people who intended to smuggle “hashish” were arrested at one of its checkpoints in the city of Ras al-Ain, al-Hasakah.
A similar incident occurred in July 2018, and Asayish stated that it had arrested a drug dealer in the town of Tell Hamis, holding 3,000 tablets of Captagon.
According to the media activist, the Organized Crime Office of SDF, which works to detain the drug dealers for a period of no more than ten days, without penalties or fines, had seized drugs.
He pointed out that the sale of narcotic pills in pharmacies began when con-certified people started working in pharmacies, after undergoing a training for a specific period of time. He considered that “many young people went to work in pharmacies, which have been turned into drug selling points away from humanitarian aspect and respect for the profession.”
The situation in the regime-held areas in the city of Deir ez-Zor is not different from that of SDF-held areas, but it is characterized by the way in which the narcotic pills are smuggled and how they are distributed.
“The 4th Armored Division is the one responsible for introducing drug pills and hashish to the regime-held areas… Drugs are transported while al-Assad Forces are moving from Deir ez-Zor to Damascus or to other areas by road or air,” clarified al-Hussein.
He explained also that recently pharmacists were arrested in flagrante delicto in regime-held areas while they were selling drug pills, and the goods were confiscated.
“The drugs come from Lebanon as pills and powder, and are delivered to drug dealers who mainly target secondary schools and government departments through people working there,” said Firas al-Fourati, an activist at Deir ez-Zor Unified Office, to Enab Baladi.
He added that the pills are promoted widely in pharmacies and each pill is sold for 250 to 1,000 Syrian pounds.
According to the activist, the narcotics are currently smuggled from regime-held areas toward SDF areas. However, SDF launched a campaign and closed all water crossings in an attempt to reduce the smuggling rates in its areas. It has also closed the land crossing for a while, until inspection rooms were ready.
On November 22, 2018, the Ministry of the Interior of the Government of the Syrian regime spoke about an awareness seminar held by Deir ez-Zor Police Department, in coordination with the Directorate of Culture at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, about drugs and their negative effects on society.
The ministry pointed out through Facebook that Ahmed al-Ali, director of Culture Department in Deir ez-Zor, Akram al-Jouri, assistant director of Health Department, and Colonel Maher Ibrahim, head of the Anti-Narcotics Branch in Deir ez-Zor, attended this seminar.
What is the difference between Hashish and Captagon?
Cannabis (hashish and marijuana) is considered as the most consumed and wide spread drug in the world. According to the World Drug Report of May 2017, the number of cannabis users in 2015 amounted to 183 million, while the number of those consuming amphetamines and stimulants, such as Captagon, amounted to 37 million.
Hashish is a product made primarily from cannabis plant cultivated in tropical and temperate regions. It is consumed in various ways, either by chewing or smoking. It is considered as one of the most dangerous drugs spread worldwide and having a psychological effect, because of its cheap price and easy use.
Hashish contains many chemicals, but the most important substance is Tetrahydrocannabinol, which affects neurotic secretions in the brain and cause side effects on the mental health. Consuming this drug stimulates the parts of the brain to be hyperactive, causing the drug user a feeling of euphoria and excessive laughs.
On the other hand, Captagon pills are the derivatives of the narcotic drugs amphetamine, which lead to an excessive activity in the body and eliminate the need to sleep. That’s why truck drivers tend to consume this drug when on duty. The pills give sexual power to the drug user, because of the feeling of megalomania it triggers, said Dr. Akram Khulani, a specialist in family medicine, to Enab Baladi.
Between four sides…
Syria is a Regional Drug Trade Corridor
As the security grip was loosened in the face of smuggling of narcotics to and from Syria, the number of young Syrians working as smugglers has increased and this activity become more profitable than other professions.
Mahmoud, 27, is a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. He currently resides in Baalbek, in the Bekaa region on the Lebanese-Syrian border. He works in the field of transporting drugs between Lebanon and Syria, whether = raw materials, cannabis (hashish), or Captagon pills. We reached him through a series of friends. He agreed to talk to Enab Baladi on condition that he remains anonymous.
During his speech, Mahmoud revealed his mechanism of work in Lebanon where he lived, and said: “I and three of my cousins carry loads from Lebanon to Syria, and vice versa. From Syria, I carry quantities of chemicals, including amphetamine, which is a basic material of the Captagon pills, while I transfer from Lebanon to Syria dozens of kilos of cannabis and hundreds of Captagon pills.”
Mahmoud added that he receives $ 1,000, which he shares with his cousins in return for transporting the goods through the off-road of the Qalamun Mountains, specifically off the Syrian town of Assal al-Ward. He added that he delivers the goods to the “storehouse” (a term for the transit area of delivery of the goods to another carrier).
On the material benefit of his work, Mahmoud said: “My monthly income is no less than $ 3,000 to $4,000 at the beginning of the fall, during hashish harvest season, and at least $ 2,500 to $ 3,000 a month for the rest of the year.”
Saleh, Mahmoud’s cousin who lives in Assal al-Ward area and smuggling drugs to Lebanon, confirmed to Enab Baladi that “during the events in Syria, the Hasia industrial zone included a large number of Captagon bottles, which are also easy to place in commercial loads and to transport between regions and governorates.”
Saleh went on saying that “the presence of chemical industry plants in the industrial city of Hasia, south of Homs, parallel to the Qalamun Mountains and the Lebanese border, makes coverage of the raw materials of drugs much easier.”
Abu Nayef (a pseudonym at his request) from the eastern Homs countryside, has been known in the drug trade since 2008 when he was in Syria, as some rural residents told us, and continued to work from Lebanon because of his relationship with merchants from the Lebanese Baalbek and Hermel.
During a conversation with him via Facebook using a fictitious name, Abu Nayef explained how to smuggle drugs and how Syria plays a key role especially after 2011 and the outbreak of events.
According to Abu Nayef, before the revolution the majority of drug traffickers belong to tribes because the trader needs more influence and the clan is the party with large numbers of youth that provides it. Abu Nayef also does not conceal the role of relations with figures in the state.
He said that after reached Lebanon, he returned to work after he stopped in early 2011 and re-communicated with his “partners” in both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and with others in Europe and Turkey.
The drug dealer added that “the raw materials come from Iran to Syria to Lebanon. In addition to the security situation that has provided a haven for drug producers, its manufacturing in Syria and Lebanon makes it easier to export it to other countries.”
He went on saying: “the land smuggling operation starts from Syria to Jordan and from there to the Gulf countries. It is also being transported to Turkey and then sent through the port of Mersin to Gulf ports and sometimes to Eastern European countries.”
“The sea port of Tripoli is also used in the transfer and smuggling of drugs and the import of raw materials, sometimes coming from Latin America. This is in addition to the use of Beirut airport to facilitate its passage with the help of airport officers to the Gulf countries since they are the most important markets for the sale of drugs,” confirmed the drug dealer.
As for the amounts paid for smuggling, Abu Nayef said that “thousands of dollars make it possible to transport 50 kilograms of hashish or 250,000 pills of Captagon. “The value of this load, whether hashish or Captagon, is about $ 100,000,” he explained.
What does hashish addiction mean?
Dr. Akram Khulani, a specialist in family medicine, told Enab Baladi that addiction starts with psychological addiction and the person’s escape from the psychological state that he is going through to the abuse. He feels active, happy and like laughing, which leads him to continue the consumption. He reaches the endurance stage, which is his body’s need for narcotics more than before in order to reach the state of activity and joy he felt at the beginning of abuse, and this way he reaches the stage of addiction.
The damage is divided into two types. First, short-term damage which results from irregular use, namely, attention disorder, poor attention, rapid heartbeat, nausea, red eyes, hallucinations and separation from reality and user indifference. These disorders disappear in two or three hours.
The second type is long-term damage and occurs when the person reaches the state of addiction. These damages are exacerbated and may reach a state of loss of memory, continuous lack of concentration, lack of appetite and constant depression. The user also becomes unable to estimate distances and time (the person thinks he jumps 10 meters while he does a normal jump), along with sexual impotence. He also has less daily concerns and duties, and most of his thinking becomes about how he can secure hashish.
The treatment of addiction is done following two steps. The first is cognitive behavioral therapy, according to Khulani, and is done through raising the victim’s awareness of the harm caused by the drugs abuse, in addition to treating the causes and psychological pressures that led him to consume drugs in order to escape from reality.
The second step is chemotherapy. The addict is given drugs and sedatives that reduce the symptoms of stopping drugs consumption (the phase of exorcising toxins from the body). These symptoms include severe nervous attacks, tension, insomnia and anger which affect the addicted person after two drug-free days and continue for a week or more. In this case, tranquilizers are given to the addict. The effect of these tranquilizers is similar to the effect of hashish or narcotic pills, which help to ease the pain of treatment, before the doctor gradually stops them and before the person becomes addicted to them.