Police announced on Wednesday that more than $1.2B worth of amphetamine pills manufactured by the Islamic State in Syria was seized at the Italian port city of Salerno. Officials characterized the haul of 84 million counterfeit captagon pills, weighing more than 15 tons, as the largest amphetamine bust ever in terms of both the amount of drugs seized and the monetary value. 

Commander Domenico Napolitano, the head of the financial police for the city of Naples, told CNN that three shipping containers had been tracked to Salerno after an investigation into an Italian organized crime group, the Camorra, revealed information about the illicit shipment. Napolitano said that the amphetamine pills were hidden so well in large, industrial paper cylinders that scanning equipment at the port failed to detect the drugs. 

“We weren’t able to see them but we knew it was arriving because of our ongoing investigations we have with the Camorra,” he said. “We intercepted phone calls and members, so we knew what to expect.”

Counterfeit Drug Finances Terrorism

The pills were stamped with the logo “Captagon,” which was originally the brand name for a drug containing the synthetic stimulant fenethylline. Although the drug is no longer produced by legitimate manufacturers, the World Drugs Report 2020 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicates that most of the captagon pills seized today are actually a mix of amphetamines, caffeine, and other ingredients.

The drug is a stimulant commonly used in the Middle East and countries bordering the European Union. Captagon has also been found in safe houses for the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and Daesh), including one used by militants responsible for the 2015 attack at the Bataclan theater in Paris that claimed the lives of 90 people. It is believed that the drugs are produced by ISIS in Syria and sold to finance the group’s terrorist activities.

“It is known that ISIS/Daesh finances its terrorist activities in large part with the trafficking of synthetic drugs produced largely in Syria, which has become the leading world producer of amphetamines in recent years,” police said. “According to the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Administration), ISIS makes wide use of these drugs in all the territories over which it exerts influence and controls its sale.”

Italian investigators said that the drugs may have been headed for countries in Europe for distribution by organized crime groups eager for product because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The hypothesis is that during the lockdown, due to the global epidemiological emergency, the production and distribution of synthetic drugs in Europe has practically stopped and therefore many traffickers with different organized crime groups have turned to Syria, where it does not seem to have slowed down,” police said.

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