June 17, 2014
A coalition of rebel groups that control the Damascus suburbs of East Ghouta announced a new campaign last month, this time turning their weapons inward on what they say are regime spies seeking to “weaken their ranks” by selling drugs.
Syria’s drug trade, already robust before the nation’s conflict began three years ago, has exploded since 2011, according to a February 2014 Reuters investigation.
As Syria’s rebels blame regime agents for distributing drugs in their ranks, the Syrian regime similarly accuses rebels of drug smuggling, particularly of Captagon, a synthetic drug similar to amphetamines.
Syrian rebels, regime trade blame for the spread of Captagon. Photo courtesy of SANA.
It is not uncommon for state media to couple reports of military advances with a large-scale seizure of the drug, which is particularly popular in the Gulf. “An army unit clashed with a terrorist group in Talfita farms and seized a car loaded with 300,000 Captagon pills,” official news agency SANA reported in February, by way of example.
In East Ghouta, Omar al-Husen, a spokesperson for the pro-rebel Revolution Command Council, explains to Mohammed al-Haj Ali why he believes the campaign to root out regime agents is working.
Q: How do these groups operate? How do you sell drugs when East Ghouta is surrounded by regime forces?
The regime supports them, and allows drugs to enter Ghouta in order to weaken people, so to speak. The regime buys these people inside Ghouta and they execute the regime’s demands – spying, selling drugs.
Q: Are you saying that none of these groups that sell drugs work independent of the regime?
[Those who sell drugs] were regime workers before the revolution, and they have agendas with the regime. The regime monetarily supports them, opening roads for their malicious projects.
We have arrested more than 50 people from these cells – including those who are arrested of spying on the rebels in East Ghouta on behalf of the regime. We are trying to protect East Ghouta from anyone who wants to burn its security.
Right now, we’re investigating those who have been arrested, and will try them in a sharia court inside Ghouta.
Q: What about individuals who steal and plunder under the name of the Free Syria Army – all of them work for the regime, not themselves?
Those individuals have also sold themselves to these cells – for the regime, emphatically.
Q: When did this anti-drug campaign begin now? Has drug use grown more prevalent recently?
The principal goal is to arrest regime elements and spies in Ghouta, and it has been very successful.
Q: How do these gangs influence life inside Ghouta?
Thank God, these groups are not very active, and were discovered relatively early. They were selling drugs and spying on the Free Syrian Army – there’s a great possibility they are related to the kidnappings and assassinations in Ghouta.
Q: And the people of East Ghouta, not the rebels, what is their role in this campaign?
Thank God, the citizens helped the campaign to achieve its goals, assisting the Free Syrian Army in arresting these cells by informing the FSA on where they are located, selling drugs and exploiting the chaos. They surmounted the challenge in front of them.
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