While Bashar Al Assad is taking advantage of the February 6 earthquake to emerge from diplomatic ostracism and move forward on the path to normalization – the latest sign to date, the mentioned reopening of the embassies of Saudi Arabia and Syria after Ramadan – the Westerners maintain pressure on the Syrian regime. On Tuesday March 28, the United States and the United Kingdom attacked the financial lifeline of Damascus after twelve years of war: the Captagon. This amphetamine, produced and exported by the regime and its local partners, is its first source of capital, valued at 57 billion in annual revenue, or “about three times the combined trade of the Mexican cartels”, according to British authorities.
Washington and London have notably imposed sanctions on two cousins of the Syrian president, Wassim Badi Al Assad, a traffic figure, and Samer Kamal Al Assad, owner of a factory in the coastal city of Latakia which produced 84 million Captagon pills in 2020, according to the US Treasury.
Two Lebanese are also in the crosshairs, this traffic based on cross-border complicity, partly linked to Hezbollah: Hassan Muhammad Daqqou, a Syro-Lebanese, nicknamed the “King of Captagon”, and Noah Zaitar, a baron of drugs and arms trafficking. The United Kingdom has added five other names to this list, including Amer Khiti, a Syrian businessman “whose many businesses facilitate the production and trafficking of drugs”, according to London, recalling that 80% of the world’s Captagon is made in Syria.
These sanctions are in reality aimed at a whole network of men revolving around the president’s brother, Maher Al Assad, commander of the Fourth Division of the army, an elite unit known for its abuses, but also, specifies the Treasury Department , “for their numerous illicit revenue-generating activities, which range from smuggling cigarettes and cell phones to facilitating the production and trafficking of Captagon.” This feared troop has the particular mission of protecting the production factories and facilitating the circulation of the pills towards the port of Latakia and Lebanon. From there, billions of tablets then leave for the Gulf countries, the leading consumer market.
Through these measures, Washington and London hope to hit traffic allowing the regime to enrich itself at the expense of the Syrian people, while circumventing international sanctions. “Together with our allies, we will hold to account those who support Bashar Al Assad’s regime with illicit drug revenues and other financial means that allow the regime to continue to suppress the Syrian people,” warns the US Treasury. It remains to be seen whether this American-British initiative is a one-off, or part of a more ambitious Western strategy to counter the ongoing rehabilitation of the Syrian regime.
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