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Saudi's latest drug bust: thousands of narcotics tablets, 760 pounds of qat

Saudi Arabia is a major destination for the amphetamine Captagon, though seizures have decreased recently due to more enforcement in transit countries like Jordan, according to a recent report.
Officers of the Directorate of Narcotics Control of Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry sort through tablets of Captagon.

Saudi authorities on Monday announced busts of methamphetamine, qat and other drugs, as part of their ongoing efforts to disrupt the narcotics trade.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported the following:

  • A Saudi citizen was arrested in the eastern province for allegedly attempting to sell methamphetamine.
  • Border guards in the southwest Aseer province arrested six Ethiopian citizens for allegedly attempting to smuggle 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of qat.
  • Security forces in the Mecca province arrested two residents of Pakistani nationality for allegedly distributing methamphetamine.
  • Border guards in the Jazan province, located on the border with Yemen, foiled an attempt to smuggle 225 kilograms (496 pounds) of qat.

Qat is a plant that releases stimulant when chewed. Its use is prevalent in Eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Yemen.

Why it matters: Authorities in Saudi Arabia regularly attempt to thwart the trade of drugs, particularly that of the amphetamine Captagon. Syria is the main producer of the drug, while Saudi Arabia is a major destination. Captagon is smuggled to the kingdom via Jordan, Lebanon and other countries.

Last week, Saudi customs authorities said they thwarted an attempt to smuggle more than 3.6 million Captagon pills into the country via the port in Jeddah. In early June, they reported the seizure of more than 6.5 million Captagon pills at the Al-Batha border crossing with the United Arab Emirates, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of Narcotics Control announced amphetamine, methamphetamine and cannabis busts this month. Those arrested were of Saudi, Syrian, Nigerian and Bangladeshi nationalities, the directorate said in a series of releases.

Despite the busts, in a May report detailing the Captagon trade between 2015 and 2023, the Newlines Institute noted that Captagon seizures in Saudi Arabia have actually declined in recent years due to more enforcement in transit countries.

“Saudi Arabia, which as the key consumer market tends to seize the largest amounts, has seen continued declines over the past two years. The decline in 2022 can be attributed to a rise in seizures in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq — transit countries often used for consignments trafficked through overland routes to Arab Gulf destination markets,” read the report.

In June, Jordanian authorities seized 9.5 million Captagon pills at the Saudi border.

According to the institute, the scale of the Captagon trade in Saudi Arabia indicates the sophistication of criminal networks there.

“While Captagon traffickers have targeted the kingdom for decades, in recent years consignments containing millions of pills have flooded Saudi ports of entry,” read the report. “Both the rate and scale of these shipments would be impossible without a level of complicity among law enforcement, customs and criminal justice system officials within Saudi Arabian criminal syndicates to receive and distribute the Captagon.”

Know more: Curbing the drug trade was a topic of discussion in last year’s meetings on normalization with Syria. The Arab League readmitted Syria in May of last year.