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Jordan seizes six million amphetamine pills in record haul

A tonne of Captagon pills concealed in a date paste was captured by authorities at the Iraq-Jordan border crossing
Jordanian authorities display their record haul of Captagon pills (Facebook/Jordanian Customs)

Jordanian authorities seized six million amphetamine pills at the Iraqi border on Sunday, the kingdom's largest drug bust ever.

One tonne of amphetamine pills, also known as Captagon, was being smuggled in date paste, according to a statement by Jordanian customs.

Two refrigerated lorries were captured by authorities with the narcotic pills "professionally hidden and difficult to detect inside the date paste", Jordanian customs said. No mention of arrests were made. 

The pills were discovered at the Iraq-Jordan border crossing of Al-Karamah and were coming from Syria, which has become one of the foremost makers of Captagon in the world.

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As fighting from the decade-long war in Syria has died down, the country has been transformed into a "narco-state".

A 2021 report by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR), a Cyprus-based consultancy, found that "Syria is the global epicentre of Captagon production, which is now more industrialised, adaptive, and technically sophisticated than ever".

In 2020 COAR estimated that Syrian exports of Captagon were valued at almost $3.5bn.

According to the report, Captagon production was initially used by anti-state groups. However, with President Bashar al-Assad's government consolidating its territorial grip on the country, it has become the prime beneficiary of the drug trade.

Stifled by international sanctions slapped on the government in the course of Syria's 11-year-old war, the government is using the trade as a means of survival.

Skirmishes between the Jordanian military and drug traffickers have become increasingly common. As a result, the country now has a shoot-to-kill policy against suspected smugglers.

Jordan is largely a transit country for the drug's biggest markets: the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Growing drug use

Trade in Captagon in the Middle East grew exponentially in 2021 to top $5bn, posing an increasing health and security risk to the region, a report by the New Lines Institute said in April. 

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia thwarted an attempt to smuggle 47 million amphetamine pills into the country, one of the country's largest-ever drug trafficking operations.

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Saudi Arabia's customs body seized 119 million pills in 2021 and, alongside the UAE, is one of the top destinations for Captagon. 

A 2021 Foreign Policy article quoted researchers as saying that "boredom and social restrictions", as well as easy availability, were fuelling the use of Captagon in the kingdom.

The drug has also been used by fighters in Syria's civil war, who say it calms their fears on the frontline.

There is a long history of fighters, including soldiers in World War Two, using amphetamines.

Earlier this year, Waleed Bukhari, the Saudi ambassador to Beirut, confirmed that the kingdom had seized over 700 million narcotic pills that had entered its territory via Lebanon over the past eight years.

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