Published: The Times, 5 August 2017
Lebanon has become the production hub for a drug known as “chemical courage” that has fuelled the bloody civil war in Syria.
Police found chemicals to be used in the manufacture of phenethylline, better known as Captagon, in a pick-up truck in the eastern suburbs of Beirut.
At the same time, officers storming a warehouse in Baalbek, a town in the foothills of the mountains northeast of Beirut, found four million pills stashed in more than 200 Thermos flasks. The driver of the truck admitted that he had been taking his cargo from the Baalbek warehouse to Beirut.
“[This] huge quantity of Captagon pills was going to be secretly and professionally transported in the Thermos flasks to Beirut for exportation,” Lebanon’s internal security forces said.
Captagon is an amphetamine-like drug that makes users more alert and aggressive. Potent and addictive, it was banned in most countries in the 1980s but is widely used in the Middle East.
The Syrian civil war has sent demand soaring. Fighters on all sides, including Isis, are said to use it and the global market is worth $1.5 billion a year. “If there were ten people in front of you, you could catch them and kill them,” one fighter said about the drug in an interview with BBC Arabic. “You don’t even think about sleeping.”
Tim Ramadan, an activist in the Isis-controlled city of Raqqa, said that Isis fighters were also pushing Captagon pills to civilians.
Jeremy Arbid, who produced a report on Lebanon’s Captagon trade for the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime, said: “It has been a culture in the Gulf for decades: they put it in their tea in the morning. But there’s also a history of amphetamine use in war. There were cases during the Second World War where both the Germans and the Allies were giving it to their soldiers.”
One of the groups profiting from the boom is the Lebanese Hezbollah, a Shia militia fighting in Syria on the side of President Assad. Since Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s, Hezbollah has produced marijuana and opium in Baalbek to fund its military activities. Now Captagon is the product of choice.
Despite the recent busts, however, there has been little concerted effort in Lebanon to stamp out the trade. “I held a presentation when my report was released and invited government and law enforcement officials,” Mr Arbid said. “None of them showed up.”