Especially who delivers ISIS

Terror and drugs: is IS delivering amphetamines to Europe?

According to the company, it was the world's largest drug raid that the authorities started in Italy last week. Guardia di Finanza published a video on what the officers found during the searches. It shows how the forces of the investigative unit for financial crime and smuggling, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance, cut holes in industrial paper cylinders with circular saws. Thousands of tablets, later identified by the police as the amphetamine derivative fenetylline (called captagon), fall out of the holes and fill dozens of large containers. The officers seized a total of 84 million tablets weighing around 14 tons. A lot that could be used to supply fenetylline to almost all of Europe. Estimated value: one billion euros.

What is remarkable about the find is not only the size, but also the knowledge about the origin. The Guardia di Finanza suspects the terrorist group "Islamic State" in Syria to be behind the delivery. All amphetamine tablets therefore bear the symbol of the "Captagon", which identifies the 'jihad drug' produced by ISIS. IS fighters use the tablets to stay awake during the fighting and feel neither fear nor pain - also the nickname "Captagon" "comes from IS.

At least at this point in time, the authorities did not reveal any doubts about the background to the delivery: "It is known that the IS finances its own terrorist activities primarily through drug trafficking. Synthetic drugs are produced on a large scale in Syria. The country is through the IS has become the world's largest manufacturer of amphetamines, "a report said.

It is unlikely that IS could produce that much

But terrorism and Syria experts have doubts about this thesis. Since the peak of its expansion in 2014, IS has lost almost all of its territory - and the number of its terrorist fighters has shrunk massively. Charles Lister, director of the Syria program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, also reported doubts via Twitter: "This story doesn't go together at all ...".

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a Syria expert at Swansea University, told DW that "given the group's currently limited manufacturing capabilities, it seems unlikely that they could have made such large quantities of the drug at the moment."

War reporter and senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Janine di Giovanni, expressed similar doubts. "All I can say is that it seems highly unlikely that IS could produce such a drug supply, considering that, in the words of one of my colleagues, they 'live in caves in Syria and Iraq,'" the scientist writes the DW.

Italian investigator blames 'communication problem'

Other information from the Guardia di Finanza is also suspicious. The "Captagon" is said to have been shipped from Latakia on the Syrian Mediterranean coast. But the port city is a long way from areas controlled by IS. Throughout the civil war, Latakia was always under the control of President Bashar al Assad's troops.

After a request from DW, the Italian authorities corrected their statements: "At the moment we cannot confirm that the drugs were manufactured by IS in Syria. The investigations are still ongoing," said Colonel Giuseppe Furciniti, head of the investigative group for organized crime Guardia di Finanza.

Strike against drug trafficking in Italy. But who is behind it?

"I don't know why the title of the press release is like this. There must have been a communication problem here," Furciniti told DW. In doing so, he contradicted an earlier statement that the IS manufactured the drugs in Syria.

Lively drug trafficking

However, it is undisputed that IS is involved in drug sales. The terrorist organization produces the tablets for its own fighters and makes a lot of money exporting the drugs to the entire Middle East. According to the United Nations 2020 World Drugs Report, the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia in particular, is by far the largest market for the pills, which are often blended from amphetamines and caffeine.

But the terrorist organization is by no means the only dominant force in the drug business. Other criminal gangs and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia are also linked to "Captagon". "In the past few years, the main production sites were definitely in Lebanon and Syria," said Thomas Pietschmann, senior research officer at the UN Office for Combating Drugs and Crime.

"Whether it came mainly from IS or one of the many other groups was always an issue. It is not just IS, but any number of groups that can manufacture and sell the drugs."

Pointing to Assad's regime

Much of recent drug production has been shipped from Latakia. In February, 5.6 tons of "Captagon" tablets were found hidden in a shipment of power cables to Dubai. In June last year, the Greek authorities stopped a shipment of 33 million tablets that were hidden in wooden pallets and also shipped from Latakia.

The amount of "Captagon" tablets shipped, the port of origin and the methods used to hide the pills raise suspicions about President Assad's regime.

According to the German weekly magazine "Der Spiegel", Assad's uncle, Samer Kamal Assad, runs several "Captagon" factories disguised as a packaging company in a village south of Latakia. The paper cylinders containing the pills are said to have been manufactured in a recently built factory in Aleppo, so their address is not yet on sanction lists.

When asked by DW whether the Assad regime could be responsible for the drug delivery, the Italian authorities said no. There are currently no indications of this.