More than $120 million worth of narcotics seized in co-ordinated drug busts across Middle East and Africa

Operation Lionfish, led by Interpol, resulted in 287 arrests

Drugs worth $121m (Dh446 million) were seized and 287 arrests made following two raids in the Middle East and North Africa.

Codenamed Operation Lionfish and led by Interpol, the busts were aimed at disrupting the trafficking of drugs in the region, as criminals seek new ways to smuggle narcotics across borders.

Law enforcement agencies in 41 countries were mobilised.

Drug trafficking is a threat that we collectively face and the massive seizures achieved in Operation Lionfish show what is possible when law enforcement fights back together

Jürgen Stock, Interpol

The operations took place in March and April, bringing together police and customs officials during a two-week period, first on the African continent and then in the Mena region.

“The striking results of these two operations demonstrate the sheer scale of the trade in illicit drugs and its international nature,” said Jürgen Stock, secretary general of Interpol.

“Drug trafficking is a threat that we collectively face and the massive seizures achieved in Operation Lionfish show what is possible when law enforcement fights back together.”

Among the seized contraband was 17 tonnes of cannabis resin, valued at €31 million (Dh138 million), confiscated from warehouses in Niger.

It was the largest seizure in the country’s history.

The twin operation resulted in the arrest of 287 individuals. Credit: Interpol
The twin operation resulted in the arrest of 287 individuals. Credit: Interpol

Shipped from Lebanon to the Togolese port of Lomé and then transported over 1,000km by lorry, the drugs were destined for Libya.

“We are seeing a marked increase in drug traffickers using Libya as a trans-shipment point, including for drugs from as far as South America,” said Brig Gen Adel Abulkasem Al Sharwy Bentaleb, head of Libya’s Interpol National Central Bureau.

“While many of these drugs are neither produced nor consumed here, this has not spared us from the violent crime inevitably wrought by such activity, which we are determined to combat alongside Interpol.”

Law enforcement agencies in 41 countries were mobilised in order to catch the criminals. Credit: Interpol
Law enforcement agencies in 41 countries were mobilised in order to catch the criminals. Credit: Interpol

Meanwhile, the South Africa Police Service seized 973 cocaine bricks, worth an estimated €32 million, from a fishing vessel off the country’s western coast, arresting 10 individuals.

“Drug trafficking most often is the causal factor to so much of the violent crimes plaguing our societies,” said Gen Khehla Sitole, national police commissioner of South Africa.

“I don't believe there is any country in this world that is immune to drugs and this is what makes our collaborative effort even more critical to overcoming this scourge.”

In total, the Lionfish operations recovered:

17 tonnes of cannabis resin

973 cocaine bricks

200 kilos of amphetamines

56 kilos of heroin

30 kilos of methamphetamines

21 kilos of cocaine powder and 169 pieces of crack cocaine

214 ecstasy tablets

More than 4.5 million tramadol tablets

720 kilos of cannabis

10,000 steroids

Other types of contraband were confiscated during the operations, including live pangolins, uncut diamonds, illicit cigarettes and vehicles.

The methods used to transport illicit substances are constantly changing.

In South Africa, crystal meth bound for Australia was hidden in sandals and inside animal sculptures.

Operation Lionfish was conducted under the umbrella of Interpols’s Project AMEAP (Africa-Middle East-Asia Pacific) and is supported by funding from the UAE and the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World.

Operations were also supported by the European Union’s AIRCOP and Crimjust projects.

Updated: May 18, 2021 09:43 AM

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