First-Ever Seizure of ‘Jihadi Drug’ Captagon in Western Europe

Photo by LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

ISIS’s years-long rampage across the Middle East has been fueled by two things (in addition to a massive power vacuum, various nations’ opportunism and several years’ worth of American nonintervention): oil and drugs.

After hostage-taking for ransom became too onerous and not remunerative enough, money from the sale of oil bankrolled ISIS’s jihadist recruitment and endless social media-worthy recruitment videos. When the oil revenues dried up, according to some sources, ISIS turned to selling cannabis.

But since at least late 2013, war-torn areas of Syria have been the world’s key producer (and consumer) of a particular amphetamine known by its brand name Captagon.

Until recently, it’s been understood that Captagon, long a popular drug in the Arabian Peninsula, was rarely consumed outside of the region, if at all. But as was reported Monday, authorities in France revealed that they confiscated massive amounts of the drug, seized in two separate busts at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

Customs officials reported seizing 300 pounds of Captagon—750,000 pills, or about $1.7 million worth—hidden in industrial molds on their way from Lebanon, according to the Washington Post. Finding the drugs required dissembling the industrial molds, a process that required industrial tools.

This is not the biggest Captagon bust, not by far. In December 2013, police in Dubai reported seizing 4.6 million Captagon pills.

What’s new here is that this is the first time the drug was discovered outside of the Middle East.

In theory, Captagon is a once-common brand name of fenethylline, an amphetamine popular for treating hyperactivity and narcolepsy in the United States that fell out of favor in the 1960s—because it was too addictive. 

It’s been illegal to use and produce in “most countries” since 1986, according to the Post, but remained popular in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, for instance, imported seven tons of the drug in 2010, Reuters reported.

Plying soldiers with uppers is very 20th century. Western democracies and autocracies have been doing it since the Greatest Generation. American pilots take “go pills” to this day, and during World War II, German tank crews were given piles of a brand-named speed pill called Pervitin, which may (or may not) have allowed Nazi armies to conquer France with blinding speed. So it is with Captagon, whose consumers report being able to fight without sleep, food or fear for extended periods of time.

Pills cost anywhere between $5 and $20 and are extraordinarily easy to make, requiring little more than “a basic knowledge of chemistry” and a few scales, as Reuters reported. What’s that saying? If you can brew beer, you can make Captagon?

Just how widespread the drug is among the Middle East’s scourge in black-pajamas is unclear: both sides in the Syrian Civil War accused the other of plying their soldiers with Captagon.

For what it’s worth, Brace Belden, the American from San Francisco who volunteered with the Kurdish militias fighting ISIS, believed some of the Uyghurs fighting with the jihadist group, used as poorly armed cannon fodder, were out of their minds on Captagon.

But what’s actually in the Captagon pills used in Syria and—now—shipped to Paris?

Who knows.

And while there is absolutely a French connection with ISIS, who counts many jihadists of French extraction, authorities believe that the drugs seized in Paris were actually on their way to Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic.

Whose drugs they were remains a mystery, though the fact that ISIS’s “favorite drug” was reported in Paris so shortly after the latest ISIS terrorist attack in western Europe will absolutely make terrified citizens act and think rationally.

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