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US, UK sanction 6 Syria-linked amphetamine traffickers

The U.S. and U.K. on Tuesday slapped sanctions on four Syrians and two Lebanese involved in manufacturing and trafficking the amphetamine drug Captagon, the two governments said. The six include cousins of Syrian President Bashar Assad and notorious Lebanese drug lynchpins.

Experts say Captagon is primarily produced in Syria and Lebanon, where packages containing millions of pills are smuggled into Gulf countries, Europe and elsewhere. The trade allegedly has strong ties to Assad and his associates, as well as key ally, the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group in neighboring Lebanon.

The U.K.'s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office statement announcing the sanctions said the Captagon industry is worth $57 billion to Assad, and has been a key source of revenue as Syria' uprising turned-conflict continues for a 13th year. Assad's brutal crackdown on protests in 2011 led to his global isolation, and his forces were accused of rampant torture, bombing civilian infrastructure, and using chemical weapons with support of key allies Russia and Iran.

“Syria has become a global leader in the production of highly addictive Captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon,” said the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control director Andrea M. Gacki in the statement.

Gacki added that the trade's revenues enable the government's “continued repression on the Syrian people.”

Among the four Syrians sanctioned are two cousins of Assad, Samer and Wassim. According to the U.S. Treasury's statement, Samer oversees Captagon production in the northern coastal city of Lattakia in coordination with Hezbollah and the Syrian army's elite Fourth Division. Meanwhile, Wassim has been described as a “key figure in the regional drug trafficking network,” while also leading a paramilitary group backing the Syrian army in the conflict.

Meanwhile, Syrian businessman Khalid Qaddour was also sanctioned for his alleged involvement in managing smuggling revenues and allegedly has close ties to President Assad's brother Maher, who leads the Fourth Division and has allegedly profited off smuggling illicit drugs, mobile phones and cigarettes. Syrian militiaman Imad Abu Zureik was also sanctioned for running a militia group with ties to Syrian military intelligence in the south of the country that the U.S. Treasury said controls the Nassib border crossing with Jordan. Abu Zureik was a former commander with Free Syria Army opposition forces.

In Lebanon, Washington and London sanctioned notorious weapons and drug smuggler Noah Zeiter, who for years has been on the run from Lebanese authorities. Zeiter prior to the conflict in Syria was known for producing and smuggling large amounts of cannabis and made occasional bombastic media appearances. Zeiter is close with Hezbollah and Syria's Fourth Division.

Hassan Daqqou, a Lebanese-Syrian who the media frequently dubs “The King of Captagon,” was also sanctioned due to his links with Hezbollah and drug trafficking operations by the Syrian army's Fourth Division. Daqqou was arrested in Lebanon in 2021 and in 2022 was sentenced to seven years of hard labor for producing and smuggling Captagon.

Washington and London also sanctioned two trading companies based in eastern Lebanon that Daqqou owns.

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