Syria seizes amphetamine-based drugs headed for Saudi Arabia

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Syrian authorities said on Tuesday they seized more than 500 kilograms (1,000 pounds) of amphetamine tablets, known under the brand name Captagon, hidden in a pasta package in a van bound for Saudi Arabia.

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The official state news agency SANA said in a statement that an investigation was underway to determine who was behind the smuggling attempt. It did not give details on whether anyone has been arrested.

US law enforcement officials say smuggling of the amphetamine-based drug from Syria and Lebanon is on the rise, with Captagon confiscating more than $3 billion since February 2020.

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Earlier this month James Walsh, a high-ranking official at the State Department’s International Narcotics Bureau, said the amount far exceeded the value of Syrian legal exports. He had no details about how much goes to Lebanon and how much comes from Syria.

The statement by Sanaa said authorities became suspicious and intercepted a van in rural Damascus containing 525 kilograms (1,160 lb) of bullets hidden in a shipment of pasta headed to Saudi Arabia. The smugglers had sprinkled black pepper over the bullets to distract the sniffer dogs, the statement said.

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Walsh said amphetamine smuggling from Syria has wide-ranging effects on Europe, Africa and Asia and is hindering efforts to resolve the country’s protracted civil war, contributing to deteriorating relations with the Gulf countries. He spoke at a conference organized by the Atlantic Center in Washington earlier this month.

The US has imposed a series of sanctions on Syrian government officials and businesses linked to President Bashar Assad, whom it blames for the country’s decades-long conflict.

Arab countries are taking steps to reintegrate the Assad government after years of boycotts following the outbreak of the war. Experts say cracking down on drug trafficking will be the key to Arab reconciliation with Syria.

Captagon smuggling has also been at the center of a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon after more than 5 million pills hidden in a consignment of pomegranates from Lebanon were seized in the kingdom in April.

In retaliation, the Saudis banned Lebanese products from entering or even transiting the kingdom, a blow to Lebanese exporters.

Lebanese farmers denied the pomegranates were Lebanese, saying the shipment had come from Syria.

Jordan has also seized drugs smuggled from Syria, including a shipment carried by a drone across the border in October.

Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Syria

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