'Anyone who tries to smuggle drugs into Jordan will die,' says army officer

Kingdom's military has killed 30 traffickers attempting to sneak in contraband from Syria

Jordanian soldiers on patrol near the border with Syria. AP
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Drug trafficking from Syria into Jordan is becoming “organised”, with smugglers stepping up operations and using sophisticated equipment such as drones, the kingdom’s army said as it issued a warning that it would employ a shoot-to-kill policy.

Since the beginning of this year, Jordan’s army has killed 30 smugglers and foiled attempts to sneak in more than 16 million Captagon pills from Syria, a number that exceeds what was seized in 2021.

“The most dangerous thing we have noticed recently is the presence of armed groups alongside the traffickers,” Col Zaid Al Dabbas told reporters during a tour of the border on Thursday.

The groups “have new tactics, like those of organised crime” and use “sophisticated vehicles … as well as drones,” he said.

Another senior officer, Col Mustafa Al Hiyari, said “anyone who tries to … smuggle drugs to Jordan will die”.

On January 27, the army announced that it had killed 27 traffickers in a clash as they tried to enter the kingdom from Syria. It was the deadliest confrontation yet in the army’s fight against smugglers.

Three other alleged traffickers were killed in separate operations this year.

About 160 groups of traffickers operate in southern Syrian, near the border with Jordan, said Col Al Dabbas.

Col Al Hiyari told reporters that large amounts of illegal drugs had been seized since the start of the year. They include 17,348 packs of hashish and more than 16 million Captagon pills, in excess of the 15.5 million and 1.4 million Captagon pills smuggled into the country in 2021 and 2020, respectively.

Captagon is an amphetamine-type stimulant that is manufactured mostly in Lebanon and is now being found across the region, particularly in Gulf Arab countries.

“Jordan is waging an undeclared war along the border against drug traffickers and those who back them up,” Col Al Hiyari said.

The officers said the kingdom is working with Syrian authorities to stamp out trafficking along the border.

“We got a very positive response from the Syrian government … but on the ground, that does not last for long,” Col Al Hiyari said.

War on Drugs: The Captagon Crisis

War on Drugs: The Captagon Crisis

“We have confirmed information that some Syrian checkpoints co-operated with some smugglers in some cases … some checkpoints affiliated with the Syrian army helped smugglers and provided protection.

“But we cannot be certain that this was done on instructions from the Syrian army — perhaps these are cases of corruption [at] these checkpoints.”

Col Al Hiyari said that it was not clear if the drugs were produced in Syria or whether they came “from somewhere else”.

The Captagon drugs smuggled from Syria had a market value of at least $3.46 billion in 2020, according to an EU-funded report by the Centre for Operational Analysis and Research.

Where did Captagon come from?

First synthesised in the 1960s, Captagon was used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

It contained a stimulant called fenethylline, a substance that was later banned by a UN convention in the mid-1980s because of its side effects. With no accepted clinical use for the drug, official production ceased in the 1980s.

Criminal gangs from Bulgaria and Turkey helped to introduce Captagon to the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. But a crackdown on laboratories and the manufacturing process in Eastern Europe and Turkey caused production to move into the Levant.

In 2015, a Saudi citizen was caught at a Lebanese airport trying to smuggle two tonnes of Captagon pills in his private jet.

Updated: February 18, 2022, 7:57 AM