Saudi Arabia seizes 2.2 million Captagon pills hidden in baklava shipment

Authorities did not reveal source of the drug, which has proliferated in government-held parts of Syria

Some of the Captagon pills seized in Jeddah port. Photo: Saudi Customs Authority
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Saudi officials have seized a huge haul of Captagon, the synthetic drug made in covert laboratories, hidden inside a shipment of baklava, the Saudi Customs Authority said.

The seizure at Jeddah port on Sunday is the latest interception in a campaign by security forces in the kingdom to stamp out smuggling of the drug, which Arab officials say originates in Syrian areas under the control of President Bashar Al Assad.

The Saudi Customs Authority did not reveal from where the baklava arrived, nor the nationality of two men it said were the intended recipients. They were both arrested.

“The pills were found under the baklava layers,” the authority said.

In the past five years, Captagon has come to be regarded as national security threat to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, the main conduit for the drug into inner Arabia. Jordan has been also a growing market for Captagon, several Arab officials who are tracking the flows say.

The issue has been a key point of diplomatic talks amid a regional drive to re-establish Arab ties with Mr Al Assad, who was ostracised by most Middle Eastern countries as his security forces violently suppressed the 2011 revolt against his rule. By the end of that year, Syria was in civil war, after the revolt became militarised.

In May, the Syrian President was invited to an Arab League summit in Riyadh, partly in the hope of securing his co-operation in reducing Captagon flows. An Arab committee was formed to follow up on the normalisation and last month Syrian and Arab security officials held a meeting in Amman to discuss counter-narcotics.

Drug-smuggling drone

In Amman, a military official said a drone carrying a crystal meth shipment was intercepted on Sunday as it crossed into Jordanian territory from Syria.

He said Jordanian border forces "followed, controlled and brought down" the small aircraft.

Last week, Jordan's police said a security committee destroyed 12.5 million Captagon pills seized in hundreds of drugs cases in the kingdom.

The announcements indicate that Captagon remains an unresolved issue, despite the drive with Mr Assad. The border areas between Jordan and Syria, and Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are mainly inhabited by tribes that have traditionally underpinned the security forces in Jordan. They have played a main role in the founding of Jordan as a British protectorate in 1921.

The volume of Captagon flowing into Jordan, and then to Saudi Arabia, rose sharply after a deal between Russia, Mr Assad's main backer, and Israel and the US.

Under the deal, the Syrian military and militias supported by Iran recaptured most of southern Syria from rebels who were fighting the regime in Damascus, with support from western and Arab countries.

Mr Al Assad said in an interview with Sky News Arabia, which was broadcast last Wednesday, that countries he did not name had "contributed to creating chaos in Syria", including Captagon trafficking.

The same day, an article in the official Syrian Baath party newspaper said Syria attended the Arab summit based on “a spirit and promises that were different to what we are hearing today”.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 12:23 PM