Narco-State Syria: New York Times investigation reveals booming drug trade in Syria

DARAMSUQ / BEIRUT — “Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multibillion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narco-state,” the New York Times starts its in-depth investigation revealing scenes of the booming drug trade in Syria and accusing people close to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of running that trade. After more than ten years of war, Syria has turned into a narco-state. A huge and efficient underground economy has developed, focused on the manufacture and export of drugs to various countries of the world, contributing to the worsening of already rampant corruption, further moral decay, and other serious social problems.

The newspaper in its Sunday edition, claims that Syria’s drug industry, specifically the manufacture of Captagon (amphetamine) tablets, is run by Assad’s relatives, including his brother Maher, in cooperation with powerful partners. The value of this drug trade amounts to billions of dollars, effectively exceeding the value of legal exports from Syria. 

Researcher Bastian Matteo Scianna of the Historical Institute of the University of Potsdam concurs. In an interview with journalist Alfred Hackensberger of WELT, Scianna says that Syria is well on its way to become a narco-state. With an economy at a standstill, with some 13 million Syrians in need, and 6 million people who need immediate help, “the only sector that is booming is the drug trade.” And “The trade in the amphetamine Captagon is constantly increasing. The drugs seized overseas from Syria are valued at $ 3.4 billion. By comparison, exports in olive oil, Syria’s largest legal export product, are worth $ 122 million.”

According to the New York Times’s investigation, members of the (extended) Assad family, businessmen with close ties to the regime in Daramsuq (Damascus) and the Lebanese Hezbollah, are among the main players in the drug trade. Hezbollah, a highly-armed militia designated a terrorist organization by among others the US, the Arab League, Israel, Germany, controls large parts of the Lebanese port, international airport, and has all the necessary resources to run a successful drug trade. The investigation further indicates that a large part of the production and distribution of Captagon is supervised by the 4th Division of the Syrian Ba’ath regime forces led by Maher al-Assad, the younger brother of Bashar al-Assad.

According to the Times investigation, 2021 has seen more than 250 million Captagon pills being seized worldwide, more than eighteen times the amount found in the past four years, with Jordan taking the lead in the regional war on drugs due to its shared border with Syria.