Breaking Bad is arguably the best modern TV drama and it catapulted the meth trade into the popular limelight. But because of that, when you think of meth, what comes to mind? A dirty biker gang making sheets of glassy stuff you’re meant to smoke. The show itself went out of its way to show what a shit drug it was and how special its characters were for making it in a quality where it escaped the bottom of the drug tier tree. Hell, the Mexican cartels initially laugh at the idea of meth distribution because it’s too cheap and shit to be worth the risk of transporting it across borders!
And yet here we are. With a shipment of 14 fucking tons (84 million doses) of meth sitting in a port in Italy, with a street value of over a billion euros, all the way from none other than the terrorist camps of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Make no mistake, this is a major record breaker. This is the biggest meth seizure in the world and you’d sure fucking hope so. 14 tons of the stuff could keep all of Italy hopping. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a case of endless shards of the familiar ‘glass fragments’ you’d see on Breaking Bad, in this case they were in capsule form, a brand known as Captagon that was once used for medicinal purposes.
Just as an aside, how many of you were still aware of ISIS activity even? This seems like a fair bit of escalation. The last ISIS stronghold in Syria fell in March of 2019 and they’d been driven out of Iraq long before then. Obviously they’re still around, but they hardly have cities under their control where they can make every house an open drug factory. There’s been talk for a while about ISIS ‘rebuilding its support’, but what does that mean in a tangible sense? Hard to say. A lot of the information is likely classified or uncertain at this present stage. We can probably infer from this latest seizure of ISIS meth that they’re regrouping somewhat, but the seizure itself is surely a huge setback.
So, Captagon. Ever heard of it before? I haven’t. If you’re from the Arabian peninsula you might have, since it’s apparently the lead drug there these days. It’s easy to make, it’s cheap and it’s developed a reputation as a ‘Jihadi Drug’ due to its regular production by militant groups in the middle-east over the last few years, with ISIS essentially controlling the supply in areas they control. They’re either exchanged for money or directly for firearms from various criminal syndicates who couldn’t care less about deaths at the hands of cut-throat murderers so long as their pockets are lined.
Since we’re here, we might as well give a bit of a history lesson on ISIS and their drug trade. As you might be aware, Islam frowns on drug usage and indeed, ISIS actually cracks down heavily on drug use within its borders. But of course, extremist religion finds its loopholes and in ISIS’s case, it’s the fact that non-Muslims (broad enough by their definition to be anyone who isn’t them) are enemies who can be fought by any means necessary, with narcotics being a perfectly valid thing to funnel into their societies. Hence, ISIS meth. Though for a long time, it really wasn’t as possible or as necessary for them.
ISIS broke from Al Qaeda in 2013, with the rupture proving final when Al Qaeda formally disavowed them in 2014. At this stage, they were still small players and didn’t particularly have high membership or reputation. As 2014 wore on, ISIS grew majorly in strength, seizing key territory both in Iraq and Syria while absorbing many smaller movements into itself along the way. It went from a relatively unimportant group at the start of 2014 to by far the largest and most deadly by the end of 2014, notably controlling key areas along the border between Syria, Iraq and Turkey, as well as gaining territory in key port regions along Libya and other areas.
In November of 2015, ISIS began to be beaten back from their territory along the Turkish border… And coincidentally, the same month saw a Turkish seizure of 11 million Captagon tablets on the border with Syria, apparently produced by ISIS and bound for the Gulf region. At the time, this was the record, a far cry from the ISIS meth that’s been discovered this week.
ISIS’s main revenue had never been drugs, rather it had been oil. Controlling vast oil deposits, it wasn’t hard for them to use that monopoly to make some scratch on the side from dirtbag companies and desperate governments. When that territory got yanked away from them through 2015 onwards, the drug trade started getting increasingly prominent, with the colloquial ISIS meth their main product. In December of 2018, Greece intercepted a Syrian ship loaded with six tons of cannabis and three million Captagon tablets. In July of 2019, after ISIS had lost the last of their official territory, Greece seized another ship and hit a new record of 33 million tablets, nearly 600 million euro.
While you may think that this was the dying gasps of a caliphate desperately trying to keep itself afloat with a haul they probably produced long before, think again, because things only escalated from there. In February of 2020, not long ago at all, records were smashed yet again as the UAE uncovered a shipment of 35 million pills. So that’s us up to date, right? …No! Because two months later in April, Saudi Arabia seized a record 44.7 million pills! It’s only escalating! Claims are that these were seized from Syrian government controlled areas and indeed, it’s possible that the government is producing these, but it’s equally possible that anti-Syrian government bias is causing people to overlook the clear trend of the narcotics trade being linked to ISIS and other Jihadist groups in Syria.
So, what have we learned from this? Well, the drug trade has absolutely exploded from Syria over these last two or so years. The records of seizures have been broken three times in this year alone and we don’t even know what shipments of ISIS meth were never found. At present, it would appear that the bulk is en route to the Gulf region, so even that massive shipment in Italy may well have never been destined to see European distribution. Either that, or we’ve just gotten a sneak preview of the next upcoming drug epidemic. If you are so inclined, no judgement. But do be aware of who your money may be going to.