Powerful drugs used by ISIS fighters for ‘chemical courage’ have been seized in record numbers with Abu Dhabi Police intercepting amphetamines worth more than Dh1 billion.
The latest police report showed enforcement officers seized 20.08 million Captagon pills worth Dh1.02 bn in 2017.
Officers hailed the latest detection technology and artificial intelligence as playing a crucial role in gathering evidence to help secure prosecutions.
Of all recorded criminal cases in the emirate last year and in collaboration with the Forensic Evidence Department, police said 61,595 samples were collected to aid investigations.
Marc Martinez, senior analyst at The Delma Institute, an Abu Dhabi think tank, said the annual figure was surprisingly low, that could suggest drug traffickers are avoiding the capital due to improved detection methods.
“Because of its port and airport infrastructure, the UAE is seen as a major hub for drug trafficking,” he said.
“The UAE is hours away from Afghanistan where 90 per cent of the world opium is produced, and from Syria where Captagon has been produced to finance the activities of multiple terrorist and criminal organisations.
“Captagon is rarely used in the UAE, but the country is the entry point toward the European and US markets.
“It is also the entry point toward one of the drug's largest markets: Saudi Arabia.”
The UAE is on the front line of the war against drugs. According to the Delma Institute, security forces seized 12 million pills in 2015 and 33 million in 2014; preventing them from destroying lives elsewhere in the world.
The Syrian conflict has created the necessary security vacuum for drug traffickers to thrive.
“As the conflict is progressively diminishing in intensity, it is crucial to prevent Syria from becoming a new Afghanistan where instability, insecurity and poverty made the country the main producer and distributor of Opium-based drugs,” said Mr Martinez.
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In March, security officials said drug traffickers linked to Hezbollah had been intercepted and arrested during attempts to smuggle narcotics into the UAE to fund the militant group.
Intelligence experts linked the arrests to an Iran-backed Lebanese network of dealers working with radical groups to corrupt young people across the GCC.
“Captagon is similar to amphetamines, whereas it is often used to lose weight or supress appetite,” said Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid, clinical director and consultant psychiatrist at The Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai.
“It can also be hallucinogenic, particularly in high doses.
“Captigon is more common in the Arabian Peninsula as the drug of choice for many young people, but it’s not clear why.
“I’ve practised for 40 years in the UK and have seen drugs prescribed safely there, have more potency on the population in this region.
“There could be a genetic or cultural variation of the effect of these kind of drugs.
“We know some drugs have a different effect on some ethnic groups, causing more elation or extreme experiences.”
Captagon has been used in medicine to treat hyperactivity disorders in children, but since its addictive properties were discovered it has been largely abandoned as a prescriptive drug.
In adults, amphetamines cause hyper arousal and are commonly used as recreational stimulants.
In November 2014, Dubai declared one of its biggest drug busts when three Syrian men were caught trying to smuggle more than 17 million captagon pills through Jebel Ali Port.
The drug is cheap and potent, and can be used by anyone who has to work 15 hours a day to soldiers on the battlefield – it’s selling power making it popular with the region’s migrant population.
“There is a link with terrorist groups to Captagon to keep soldiers alert during battle, and we know students use it to stay alert during exams,” said Dr Walid.
“Psychosis is also a factor and users can lose touch with reality and begin seeing or hearing things, that is something terrorists may want to use within their organisation.
“It usually has the opposite effect in children, but we know it is addictive with people often self-medicating to treat depression.
“Stopping any drug suddenly can cause a dangerous reaction so it has to be done with professional medical advice.
“If parents discover their children are abusing this drug they should seek medical assistance immediately.”
Key programs hailed as helping police keep crime rates down in the capital are a comprehensive anti-drug program, mobile surveillance units, a ballistic weapons laboratory car for arms and ammunition inspection and the sampling of a fingerprint database.
AI and other technological advancements have been used by police for the study of geological forensic evidence, linking suspects to crime scenes and to help strengthen drug prosecutions.
“Various police sectors have achieved practical achievements to improve the level of police and security services provided to society,” said Maj Gen Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithi, commander-in-chief of Abu Dhabi Police.
“This has included equipment improvements, human resources and launching new development projects that have enhanced our efforts in the prevention and control of crime.”