Jordan arrests 20 suspected dealers in fight to stem drug flow from Syria

Stream of Captagon pills from Syrian regime areas now major security issue in kingdom

Jordanian soldiers on the border with Syria, where large amounts of drugs are said to be entering the kingdom. AFP
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Jordanian security forces arrested 20 drug dealers across the kingdom in one day, a police spokesman said, as authorities increase efforts to curb a booming narcotics trade flowing mainly from southern Syria.

Border operations have been stepped up in the past few months to disrupt flows of the stimulant pill known as Captagon and other drugs from areas controlled by the Syrian military and pro-Iranian militias, and numerous arrests have been made to dismantle drug networks in Jordan.

“Anti-narcotics personnel mounted in the last 24 hours security operations against drug merchants and marketers,” an Internal Security Directorate spokesman said on Wednesday.

He said all 20 men who were arrested were referred to the State Security Court, a tribunal mostly comprising military judges, the official news agency reported. It deals with terrorism, political crimes and other threats deemed too grave or sensitive to be handled by Jordan's civil legal system.

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Regional security officials say Saudi Arabia is the main market for Captagon pills, which are mostly manufactured south of Damascus and smuggled across the 360km border between Jordan and Syria, with 10 to 20 per cent of the pills consumed in Jordan.

Hashish produced in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and crystal methamphetamine — a drug known to cause psychological problems and heart damage ― are also part of the drug flows.

But the most profitable contraband is Captagon, with a pill costing cents to produce then reportedly sold on the market for up to $15.

The spokesman said one of the 20 men was seized in the impoverished Zarqa area east of Amman and that he had been sentenced in absentia for a 15-year jail term on drug charges.

Another five were arrested in the northern Badia region and in the Mafraq governorate, which both border Syria. One was apprehended while he was on a drug run and 12,000 Captagon pills were found in the spare tyre of the car he was using, the spokesman said.

Weeks of “intelligence work” in the rural area of Ajloun, north-west of Amman, resulted in the arrest of a “dangerous suspect” wanted in 21 drug cases and for “terrorising citizens”.

“He resisted arrest and had upon him a firearm and a quantity of drugs,” the spokesman said.

Two traffickers were apprehended in central Amman. They were carrying four pouches of hashish and an unspecified quantity of “banned pills”.

Another man carrying “large quantities of drugs” was intercepted in the southern governorate of Karak.

In the nearby governorate of Aqaba, Jordan's only outlet to the sea, six traffickers were seized in a joint operation between the Jordanian gendarmerie, a security agency responsible for maintaining domestic order, and the police.

They were carrying “various quantities of these deadly substances, ready for sale,” the spokesman said.

Although some drugs flow into Jordan from Egypt through the Red Sea, the border with Syria has become the main conduit for trade since Syrian regime forces retook the area from rebels in 2018 after a deal between Russia, the US and Israel.

Jordan says pro-Iranian militias in southern Syria and the Syrian military are behind the rise in drug smuggling in the past four years.

The 2018 agreement was supposed to keep Lebanon's Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups away from the border.

This week Jordanian border forces fired on armed infiltrators and were believed to have killed four of them as they were smuggling drugs from Syria.

A military official said one of the infiltrators was wounded and the rest “fled to the Syrian interior”.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 9:39 AM