Jordan army officer killed in shoot-out with drug smugglers on Syria border

Security officials have voiced alarm at increased drug smuggling from Syria over the past year

Captagon pills confiscated in Syria. AP

Drug smugglers operating from Syria killed a Jordanian army officer on Sunday in a gunfight on the border, the Jordanian military said.

The military said Capt Mohammad Al Khdeirat was killed at 4am when a group of smugglers fired at Jordanian border guards on the north-eastern frontier with Syria.

Three soldiers were wounded and transferred to a hospital near the city of Irbid, the military said in a statement, adding that the smugglers fled back to Syria.

“A large quantity of drugs were found after searching the area,” the statement said. “The army will respond with all strength and resolve [against] any infiltration attempt to protect our borders and prevent anyone who dares to violate our national security.”

Several Jordanian military personnel have been killed or wounded over the past two years in armed clashes related to drug smuggling from Syria.

Curbing the smuggling has been a motive behind Jordanian overtures towards President Bashar Al Assad since last year.

Over the past two years Jordan has become a crossroads for drugs smuggling, Arab security officials have warned.

Jordanian officials say Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group and militias who hold sway in southern Syria are behind the smuggling of one of the most popular banned drugs, a stimulant known as Captagon, which has a thriving market in the Gulf. Hezbollah denies the accusations, calling them fabricated.

The smuggling also feeds domestic demand in Jordan.

Syrian drug production was on the agenda of a rare meeting between the Jordanian and Syrian chiefs of staff in Amman in September.

Ties between Jordan and Syria worsened after the revolt against five decades of Assad family rule that began in 2011 and prompted a brutal crackdown by the regime.

Jordan initially criticised the violence employed by the regime and hosted rebels supported by Western and Arab countries as the revolt gave way to civil war.

But the Russian intervention in 2015 on the side of Assad promoted the kingdom to abandon support for rebels.

With encouragement from Moscow, Jordan took steps last year to improve ties with the regime in Damascus.

Some restrictions at the main Jaber-Nasib crossing between the two countries were eased and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi met Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

UN drug experts say Syria has become the region's main production site for drugs destined for Jordan, Iraq, the Gulf and Europe.

Jordanian officials have voiced increasing alarm at a spike in attempted drug smuggling from Syria over the past year, including large quantities found hidden in Syrian lorries passing through its main border crossing to the Gulf region.

Syrian authorities have in recent months announced several major interceptions of drugs destined for Gulf markets and say they are doing their utmost to crack down on widespread production in the country.

But the drug smuggling has shown little signs of abating, and Jordanian security officials regard it as a major security threat.

Last year the Jordanian army said it shot down a drone flying a large quantity of drugs across the border.

Updated: January 16, 2022, 2:26 PM