Was Islamic State trying to sell €1 billion worth of drugs in Europe?
09 Jul 2020

Last week Italian law enforcement agents carried out what they said was the world’s largest ever drugs bust of amphetamines.

A video from the Guardia di Finanza, a financial crime and smuggling investigations unit attached to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, shows officers using circular saws to cut their way into industrial paper cylinders shipped from Syria.

Thousands of tablets, identified by police as captagon, come streaming out of the holes, filling dozens of large containers. Officials say in total they seized 84 million tablets weighing 14 tons (12,700 kg) — almost enough to supply the whole of Europe, according to the police. Their estimated worth is €1 billion ($1.13 billion).

It was slick PR. But there was something even more remarkable about the accompanying statement. It claimed the drugs were shipped from Syria by the terrorist group “Islamic State” (IS).

According to the Guardia di Finanza, the amphetamine tablets all bear “the symbol of the ‘captagon,’ which distinguishes the ‘Jihad drug’ made by IS.” The drug got its nickname after IS militants admitted to taking it to stay awake and not feel fear or pain during battle.

The statement continues, “It is known, in fact, that IS / Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS] finances its own terrorist activities especially by means of drug trafficking — the synthetic ones massively produced in Syria — which has become for this reason in recent years the first world producer of amphetamines.”

‘Highly unlikely’ IS could produce so much

But experts on terror groups and Syria immediately raised their doubts. IS has lost almost all its territory since its high point in 2014, its forces are diminished. Charles Lister, director of the Middle East Institute’s Syria program, tweeted that “This story doesn’t add up… at all.”

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a Syrian expert at Swansea University, told DW that “given the group’s current limited capabilities on the manufacturing level, [it] seems unlikely they could have made such vast quantities of the drug at the present time.”

War reporter and senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for global affairs Janine di Giovanni raised similar doubts. “All I can say is it seems highly unlikely IS could produce such a cache of drugs given the fact that they are, in the words of one of my colleagues, ‘living in caves in Syria and Iraq,” she wrote to DW.

Italian investigator blames ‘communications problem’

Another stumbling block for the Guardia di Finanza’s claim was the port from which they said the captagon had been shipped. Latakia, a harbor city on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, has remained a safe distance from IS’ clutches. It always has been in the hands of President Assad.

By Alex Matthews and Giulia Saudelli, Deutsche Welle, 7 July 2020

Read more at Deutsche Welle

RiskScreen: Eliminating Financial Crime with Smart Technology

Advance your CPD minutes for this content, by signing up and using the CPD Wallet