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AUDIO

 

10:00:00

 

 

10:00:03

 

SYRIAN FIGHTER:  There was no fear anymore, after I took Captagon


10:00:09

 

DRUG USER 1: You can’t sleep or even close your eyes, forget about it. And whatever you take to stop it, nothing can stop it

10:00:22

 

DRUG USER 2: I felt like I own the world, high, like I have power nobody has.

A really nice feeling.

10:00:30

COMMENTARY: A little known drug is flooding the Middle East, a highly addictive amphetamine tablet, called Captagon.

10:00:39

COMMENTARY: Since the war in Syria began, police forces all over the region have been seizing record breaking numbers of pills

10:00:48

DRUG USER 1: It's in Dubai, Saudi Arabia,

10:00:51

 DRUG USER 1: in Qatar and the Emirates, it's in all of these places.

10:00:55

COMMENTARY: In this investigation we follow the Captagon trail: from Syria’s battlefields through Lebanon’s smuggling routes and examine the human cost of addiction

10:01:05

COMMENTARY: across the Middle East.

10:01:10

COMMENTARY: We get an exclusive look at the beating heart of this illegal trade

10:01:14

COMMENTARY: inside a secret Captagon factory.

10:01:17

FACTORY WORKER: How many pills do we produce everyday?

10:01:21

FACTORY WORKER: We produce half a million to a million per week or month. It depends.

10:01:27

 

 

 

 

COMMENTARY: We uncover why Captagon has become the drug of choice for some Syrian fighters.

10:01:34

 

FIGHTER 1: So we took it the first time. We felt physically fit.

10:01:40

FIGHTER 1: And if there were 10 people in front of you, you could catch them and kill them. You’re awake all the time.

10:01:46

 

COMMENTARY: We meet one of the men at the very top of the Captagon trade.

10:01:52

 

SYNC:

RADWAN: Do you have an average yearly profit?

10:01:54

ABU SOUS: Last year, it was around six million dollars. 

10:02:00

COMMENTARY: And we reveal how Lebanon’s Captagon boom is fuelling Syria’s bloody conflict. 

10:02:06

COL CHAMSEDDINE: If somebody wanted to fund the Syrian conflict, for sure it would bring a result 

10:02:13

COL CHAMSEDDINE: because it’s worth around 800 million dollars

10:02:16

 

 

10:02:27

 

10:02:38

COMMENTARY: My name is Radwan Mortada, I am a Lebanese journalist. I have spent the last 10 years investigating crime, corruption and the war in Syria.

 

10:02:51

 

 

 

 

COMMENTARY:  I have been following the rise of a new drug making its way on to Beirut’s streets. Captagon, the popular brand name for this drug, is an amphetamine that has been widely banned since the mid-eighties - it is highly addictive and can cause psychosis and brain damage.

 

10:03:13

PTC RADWAN: We are in one of the poor areas

 

10:03:15

 

PTC RADWAN:  in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Here, a group of young guys take several kinds of drugs, one of which is Captagon. It became really popular since the war in Syria started.

 

Stop it … Put down the camera.

 

10:03:40

COMMENTARY: This is a neighborhood where filming can invite unwanted attention from criminals as well as from authorities. All three men

 

10:03:52

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMMENTARY: are unemployed due to their addiction. They use a cocktail of hash, cough syrup and now - Captagon. They asked that we not show their faces.

 

10:04:01

SYNC

DRUG USER: It works straight away

 

10:04:05

 

SYNC:

DRUG USER 1: There are people here in Beirut using it -in universities, in AUB, in LAU, it’s spreading in all the universities. 

 

10:04:16

 

DRUG USER: Some of the luggage handlers at the airport take it so they can work overtime.

 

10:04:24

 

DRUG USER: People are taking it with Ecstasy, with everything

 

10:04:28

 

RADWAN: Why do people go for this instead of other stuff?

 

10:04:31

DRUG USER: I’m telling you, this product, nothing better has come out than this, yet.

 

10:04:38

COMMENTARY: Drug laws in Lebanon are harsh, simply possessing Captagon means these men could face a lengthy jail sentence.

 

10:04:51

SYNC:

RADWAN: What would happen to me if I took it?

 

10:04:54

DRUG USER: I don’t advise you to take it because you don’t take it already.

 

10:04:58

DRUG USER 2: I took this pill – let me tell you what it does to you- it gives you huge amounts of energy, you can’t sleep or even close your eyes, forget about it. And whatever you take to stop it, nothing can stop it. It’s really good. 

 

10:05:21

COMMENTARY: Just as one of the men began to show me how he likes

 

10:05:25

COMMENTARY: to take Captagon, the electricity cut out.

 

10:05:28

COMMENTARY: It happens regularly in this neighborhood.

 

10:05:33

SYNC

DRUG USER: You take this pill, you crush it and take it, you have a feeling better than cocaine.

 

10:06:08

DRUG USER 2: When he snorts it, it works immediately. When he takes it he will ask for more.

 

10:06:15

DRUG USER 1:  The effect on the body is really strong, it’s like Morphine. For really strong pains.

 

10:06:26

DRUG USER 1: It stops you feeling anything – you know?

 

10:06:30

DRUG USER 2: It makes you numb, numb

 

10:06:31

DRUG USER 1: These pills are really spreading fast, they’re having a big impact on the people.

 

10:00:40

ALL: Cheers to Captagon.

 

 

10:06:45

COMMENTARY: I could see why Captagon had become so popular.

 

10:06:48

COMMENTARY: It was a cheap, long lasting high

 

10:06:52

 

 

10:06:58

COMMENTARY: When I asked these men about the drug they were taking they knew very little except that it came from Syria.

 

10:07:06

COMMENTARY: I wanted to know about the Syrian side of this trade.

 

10:07:17

COMMENTARY: A friend introduced me to a former Syrian border guard

 

10:07:23

 

 

 

COMMENTARY: Louai Hussein now runs a cafe in Beirut. He told me (Radwan) that even before the war, his unit caught smugglers attempting to move Captagon pills across Syria’s border with Jordan.

 

10:07:43

 

LOUAI HUSSEIN: During my service,

 

10:07:46

LOUAI HUSSEIN:  when the smuggling operations took place between the Syrian and Jordanian borders,  Captagon pills and stuff like that, we used to confiscate very big quantities of these pills and other kinds of these drugs but most of these were Captagon pills.

 

10:08:17


 

 

10:08:22

COMMENTARY: Over time, Captagon smugglers became a major concern for Louai’s unit. He remembers one dramatic incident in particular: his unit had been staking out a group of smugglers for weeks. Then, one night they heard the sound of a motorbike approaching - and suspected it was the smugglers.

 

10:08:49

SYNC

LOUAI HUSSEIN: When they got closer, we were ready to shoot. I shouted to him three times as per the instructions of the Syrian army - “stop, stop, stop” but he didn’t stop, so we shot at them and they ran away leaving behind their motorcycle and the bags of the Captagon pills. Around 5 or 6 in the morning, the officer came and we found 2 motorcycles

 

10:09:35

LOUAI HUSSEIN: loaded with 4 sacks of Captagon pills.

 

10:09:41

 

 

10:09:45

COMMENTARY: As the war engulfs Syria, smugglers are finding a new route, through Lebanon. I reached out to the anti-drug unit in Beirut’s police force, to find out just how much Captagon is now moving through Lebanon.

 

10:09:59

 

 

10:10:05

COMMENTARY: I received a call from the head of the unit: General Ghassan Chamseddine. He told me to come to the station as they had just busted another Syrian smuggling operation.

 

10:10:18

SYNC:
OFFICER: That’s 40 to 50 kilos, you can’t carry it like that

 

10:10:27

OFFICER 2: How many?

OFFICER 1: 58 with this one

 

10:10:29

OFFICER: Ok, 59 including this one

OFFICER: And this is 60

 

10:10:35

CHAMSEDDINE: The drug dealers consider this a livelihood from God. We are blocking their livelihood.  

 

10:10:44

COMMENTARY: This was the biggest haul of Captagon in the history of Lebanon - 15 million tablets, en route to Dubai.

 

10:10:56

COMMENTARY: General Chamseddine showed me the evidence room which was rapidly filling up with sacks of Captagon and seizures from other raids.

 

10:11:04

COMMENTARY: He told me the pills seized today weighed over 4 tonnes with a street value of around three hundred million dollars.

 

10:11:15

COMMENTARY: Since 2013 Captagon smuggling in Lebanon has skyrocketed. General Chamseddine told me about one dramatic raid, during the first signs Lebanon’s Captagon epidemic.

 

10:11:38

SYNC

CHAMSEDDINE: We caught a lot of big gangs from Homs. They have their own factories and ways to hide the drugs,

 

10:11:46

CHAMSEDDINE: mainly in Homs. Like the trucks, they’ve hidden Captagon inside. These people have big factories to customise trucks in Homs to hide the drugs inside them.

 

10:11:58

CHAMSEDDINE: In one of our operations, a really big operation, we caught 5 million captagon pills in Bekaa, in a town called Saadnayel. We caught them in the body of 6 wheel trucks, they were driving on the road. In this operation, we caught 5 million tablets. We arrested 6 or 7 people, from the same gang

 

10:12:26

CHAMSEDDINE: they work as a family business, - the boss and his brothers in law and nephews. When we arrested these 6 people, we kept monitoring the operation, tracking it to find the head of the gang.

 

10:12:43

UPSYNC:

CHAMSEDDINE: Good morning, good morning, nobody move.

Lay down on the floor, nobody move! Who is inside? Wait a minute come here. Sit on the couch! And the kids too. Women and children on the couch.

 

10:13:03

SYNC:

CHAMSEDDINE: Captagon smuggling through Lebanon to the Gulf started

 

10:13:08

CHAMSEDDINE: after the events in Syria had begun.

 

10:13:13

COMMENTARY: General Chamseddine told me that the war in Syria had not only pushed smuggling through Lebanon - now gangs have started to set up Captagon factories inside the country.

 

10:13:26

SYNC

CHAMSEDDINE:

We have information there are some dealers here

 

10:13:29

CHAMSEDDINE: who have the ability and the machines to produce Captagon. They use machines that normally make small chocolates.

The dealers change the head of the machine so they can stamp the Captagon, rather than making the sweets - it can make Captagon.

 

10:13:54


 

 

10:14:02

COMMENTARY:  I wanted to know how these makeshift Captagon factories worked. I learn that one was operating just outside Beirut. The gang running it agreed to give us access through a local cameraman. This is the first time an illegal Captagon factory has ever been filmed.

 

10:14:21

 

 

10:14:32

SYNC:

FACTORY WORKER 1: How many pills do we produce each day?

 

10:14:36

FACTORY WORKER 1: It depends if we have electricity or not, but overall it depends on the demand. Sometimes we produce pills and we store them, and it depends if the roads are open for smuggling or not, it depends.

 

10:14:52

FACTORY WORKER 1: Sometimes you receive an order for half a million or a million tablets, it depends on the work. We are not the ones who distribute it, we sell wholesale and they distribute it

 

10:15:03

FACTORY WORKER 1: it depends on the work.

 

10:15:06

FACTORY WORKER 1: This machine runs on electricity, so if we have power cuts we will stop producing. You have liquid amphetamines and soluble caffeine, and each merchant puts the mix he wants. If you want to try - we can give you some.

 

10:15:29

FACTORY WORKER 1: Each type has different flavours, like smoking shisha, shisha has different flavours like apple, mint.

 

10:15:35

CAMERAMAN: Who orders from you?

 

10:15:40

FACTORY WORKER 1: There are specific merchants for these things, they request it

 

10:15:45

CAMERAMAN: But you don’t do other work? Why do you do this job?

 

10:15:50

FACTORY WORKER 1:  If you like, you can leave your journalism career and come and work with us, then you’ll know why we do this.

 

10:15:56

CAMERAMAN:  But it’s not obvious that you have lots of money?

 

10:16:00

FACTORY WORKER 1: We want to be like everyone else.

 

10:16:05

FACTORY WORKER 1:

To wear trendy clothes and  buy the latest car.

 

10:16:11

CAMERAMAN: Is it so much profit?

 

FACTORY WORKER 1: Yes – as much as you want

 

10:16:18

COMMENTARY: What these men are doing could mean a life sentence if they are caught. Knowing these risks, they show me how they package up and disguise their Captagon for smuggling.

 

10:16:33

SYNC:
FACTORY WORKER 2: This is the easiest and the best way for smuggling that we found. I open the tissue box, and I put the tablets in the tissue box. I open it in a way that when I close it again, it won't look like it was opened before. We open the bag, and we put the tablets among tissues, then we wrap it

 

10:16:59

CAMERAMAN: Show us

 

10:17:04

FACTORY WORKER 2: We have different methods, you can smuggle with vegetables, you can open the lettuce and put the pills inside it. Or for example inside shampoo bottles or hair gel. Or for example inside bags of bread.

 

10:17:24


 

 

10:17:28

COMMENTARY: These men wouldn’t tell us where these pills would end up and seemed to know little about the links between Captagon

 

10:17:33

COMMENTARY: and the Syrian conflict.

 

 

Lebanon now has its own home-grown Captagon trade. Many groups have been accused of involvement,  including the Shia militant group, Hezbollah after two Captagon factories were found in the basement of Hezbollah-linked seminary schools.

 

 

10:17:48

I needed to speak to someone at the top of the supply chain of this illegal trade.

 

 

10:17:56

COMMENTARY: I got in touch with a well-connected Syrian opposition figure who I knew was rumoured to be involved in the Captagon trade. He goes by the alias Abu Sous. Abu Sous fled Syria shortly after the war started and is now living on the outskirts of a central European city.

 

10:18:17

COMMENTARY: It took months to persuade him to be interviewed on camera. On the surface, Abu Sous is a wealthy businessman but he revealed to me that he had in fact been funding Captagon factories for years. He says, to support good causes, in Syria.

 

10:18:38

SYNC

ABU SOUS: In fact, the idea started years ago. Someone who was involved in Captagon gave me the idea of opening a small Captagon factory where profits could even go to charitable organisations. It brings a big profit.

 

10:19:01

COMMENTARY: Abu Sous couldn’t give me exact figures of how much he’d given to charity but it was clear selling Captagon to the Saudis had also made him a lot of money.

 

10:19:12

SYNC:

ABU SOUS: I was surprised to learn the reason why Saudis love Captagon so much, and that is because any type of alcohol is banned in their country, so the alternative is Captagon. The truth is that we would sell a lot.

 

10:19:39

COMMENTARY: Abu Sous is also a significant political figure opposed to President Assad’s regime and the jihadist groups. When war broke out, he began supporting secular brigades fighting around Homs. The man in charge of the Abu Sous’ Captagon factory ramped up production - allowing Abu Sous to channel more money towards his brigades.

 

10:20:07

SYNC:

ABU SOUS: But

 

10:20:10

ABU SOUS: at the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the entire thing became bigger. We could make more of a profit. And I told him “no problem, do it.”

 

10:20:23

RADWAN: Do you have an average yearly profit?

 

10:20:25

ABU SOUS: Last year, our profits were more than six million dollars. Even this money, we put more than this amount of money keeping our secular groups standing on their feet.

 

10:20:40

RADWAN: How many armed men do you support in Syria?

 

10:20:42

ABU SOUS: I’m not 100 percent sure, but around 12,000

 

10:20:50

COMMENTARY: I was unable to verify this figure but the brigades that have publicly named Abu Sous as a benefactor, number in the thousands. Abu Sous told me how he’s using his drug money to counter money from Saudi Arabia

 

10:21:05

COMMENTARY: that he believes is funding jihadist groups and destroying Syria.

 

10:21:14

SYNC

ABU SOUS: The truth is the country that exports terrorism to the Middle East and the protector of

terrorism is Saudi Arabia.

 

10:21:23

ABU SOUS:

The fight is not a revolution anymore. It is a fight between seculars and Salafists. It is a fight between countries. But we discovered in the middle of this chaos and conflict, it’s not exactly a revolution.  A large part of it is a conspiracy against Syria and against the Syrian people.

 

10:21:47


 

 

10:21:53

COMMENTARY:

Since I spoke with Abu Sous his Captagon operation has been shut down by the fighting in Syria. Many of the men in his brigades have either defected or deserted. Fighters in secular brigades from all over Syria have now fled into Lebanon. I (Radwan) travelled to the Bekaa Valley where large numbers of these men now live

 

10:22:15

COMMENTARY: and met with two ex-fighters who told me why Captagon is tailor-made for the battlefield.

 

10:22:23

SYNC

FIGHTER 1: So the brigade leader came and told us this pill gives you energy, try it. So we took it the first time, you feel physically fit,

 

10:22:33

FIGHTER 1: and if there were 10 people in front of you, you could catch them and kill them. You’re awake all the time. You don't have any problems, you don’t even think about sleeping, you don't think to leave the checkpoint, it gives you great courage and power

 

10:22:53

FIGHTER 1: If the leader told you to go break into a military barracks

 

10:22:58

FIGHTER 1: I will break in with a brave heart and without any feeling of fear at all – you’re not even tired.

 

10:23:09

COMMENTARY:  A fighter from another brigade told me that, while Captagon provides courage in battle, the cravings for the drug can be self-destructive

 

10:23:21

FIGHTER 2: Our brigade was around 350 people and they used to take Captagon. The positive of Captagon is

 

10:23:29

FIGHTER 2: it makes us stay awake 24 hours a day and gives us energy.

On the negative side people become addicted to it, and it will damage the addicts.

 

10:23:43

FIGHTER 2: This is the problem. All the brigades  around us  used to take these pills.

 

10:23:51

RADWAN: Isn’t it taboo to take this?

 

10:23:54

FIGHTER 2: A lot of guys used to take it and they didn’t know what it was - If it was a drug or just medicine for energy. 

 

10:24:05


 

 

10:24:11

COMMENTARY:  For many fighters, the battle in Syria may be behind them, but they are now dealing with drug addiction. After five years of fighting it was easy to understand why these men had come to rely on a drug like Captagon.

 

10:24:30

COMMENTARY: I wanted to know what years of this drug epidemic has meant on the ground in the Gulf where most of the demand for Captagon comes from, according to UN reports. At this rehab center in Kuwait addicts from all over the Gulf seek treatment.

 

10:24:50

DR ADEL ZAYED: While we are talking today, I have patients from Saudi, Oman, and Bahrain. 

 

10:24:58

DR ADEL ZAYED:

The main risk of amphetamines, the frequent use of it over a long time directly affects the brain cells.

Sometimes it causes brain damage and sometimes the patient develops psychiatric illnesses.

 

10:25:18

COMMENTARY: One of Dr Zayed’s patients at the center is Ahmad, a former Kuwaiti soldier and recovering Captagon addict. 

 

10:25:29

SYNC

AHMAD: You take one pill, you feel high, you feel powerful and active, but after two hours, three hours, you will feel tired and exhausted

 

10:25:41

AHMAD: So you need to take another pill.

To renew this feeling of being active

 

10:25:49

AHMAD:  I managed to stop taking drugs with the help of God and the head of the psychiatric hospital, Dr Adel Zayed

 

10:26:00

AHMAD: and thank God he got me to that point, thank God I managed to recover. I’ve reached  one year and one month without even taking a Panadol, thank God

 

10:26:23


 

 

10:26:28

COMMENTARY:  It has taken Ahmad two years to get clean. But his words echo those of the young addicts I met in Beirut - where Captagon addiction has only just begun to take hold.

 

10:26:43

SYNC

DRUG USER 1: I don’t advise anyone to take it - because until now I’m still suffering from it

 

10:26:49

DRUG USER 1: because I can’t quit. My family got me treatment but I couldn’t stop.

 

 

10:26:56

COMMENTARY: For now, these words of warning are being drowned out by the sounds of the Syrian conflict.

 

10:27:06

COMMENTARY: In the last year, shipments of the pills have been seized on their way to Sudan, in Jordan, the West Bank and of course, Syria and the Gulf. Men like Abu Sous believe they are fighting a good cause

 

10:27:23

COMMENTARY: but they are only adding to the chaos, by spreading addiction across the Middle East

 

10:27:29

SYNC

FIGHTER 1:  I know guys, who would stop providing food for their children just so they could buy Captagon.

 

10:27:44

AHMAD:  I lost 17 years from my life while I was searching for this high

 

10:27:50

AHMAD: You can say my youth was lost, the best days of my youth lost on “Capti”

 

10:27:58

 

 

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