Airstrikes kill well-known Syrian drug kingpin


Beirut (AP) — Airstrikes over southern Syria early Monday killed one of the country’s most well-known drug dealers, an opposition war monitor and a pro-government radio station reported.

The rare attack came days after Jordan warned it would use force inside Syria to eliminate drug trafficking to its territories and from there to oil-rich Arab gulf nations.

The strikes also come a day after Arab governments reinstated Syria to the Arab League following the country’s suspension for its crackdown on protests. As Arab governments gradually rekindle ties with Damascus, one of the key topics of discussion has been Syria’s illicit drug industry, which has flourished during the ongoing conflict — especially illegal amphetamine captagon.

Western governments estimate that captagon has generated billions of dollars in revenue for President Bashar Assad, his Syrian associates, and allies. Damascus has denied the accusations.

The first strike hit a home in the Syrian village of Shuab in Sweida province near the Jordanian border, killing Merhi Ramthan, his wife and six children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The opposition war monitor and Sham FM reported another strike in the southern province of Daraa that hit a building. The Observatory said the building housed a drug factory.

Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist who covers developments in southern Syria, also said that one strike killed Ramthan and his family in Sweida province while the other hit a facility in Daraa province used by Iran-backed groups to produce and store drugs before smuggling them to Jordan. He said the strikes occurred before dawn Monday, igniting a fire at the drug facility in Daraa province.

The pro-government radio station did not give any further details. There was no immediate comment from either Jordanian or Syrian authorities.

Activists and the war monitor said they believe Jordan is likely behind the airstrike, with the captagon producer among the most-wanted by the Jordanian authorities for facilitating drug smuggling across the border with the backing of a small militia. They also say he is close with militias linked to Assad and the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Last week, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned that his country will not stand idle if drug trafficking continues from Syria.

“We are not taking the threat of drug smuggling lightly,” Safadi told CNN last week. “If we do not see effective measures to curb that threat, we will do what it takes to counter that threat, including taking military action inside Syria to eliminate this extremely dangerous threat.”

“For us, it is a must that we end this crisis because we’ve suffered tremendously from its consequences,” Safadi said.

Al-Masalameh, the opposition activist said: “The war planes were believed to be Jordanian following the threats by the foreign minister.”

Jordan has frequently reported busting drug smuggling operations on its border with Syria, with its soldiers sometimes engaging in shootouts with drug cartels trying to break through from southern Syria.

In recent years, Jordanian authorities have discovered millions of smuggled captagon pills, many of which were sent to oil-rich gulf nations.

Both Syria and neighboring Lebanon have become gateways for the drug to the Middle East, and particularly to the the Gulf.

In March, the U.S. and U.K. slapped sanctions on four Syrians and two Lebanese involved in manufacturing and trafficking captagon.

The six include cousins of the Syrian president and well-known Lebanese drug kingpins. Weeks later, the European Union imposed sanctions on several Syrians, including members of Assad’s family, blaming them for the production and trafficking of narcotics, notably captagon.

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