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Biden signs measure aimed at targeting Captagon trade in Syria

FILE - In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian authorities display Captagon pills, in rural Damascus, Syria, Nov. 30, 2021.
FILE - In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian authorities display Captagon pills, in rural Damascus, Syria, Nov. 30, 2021.

Largely overlooked in the massive foreign aid package signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday is a measure that targets the trafficking of a dangerous drug in Syria.

The Illicit Captagon Trafficking Suppression Act is part of the package providing military and other aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. It provides for new sanctions against individuals, entities and networks affiliated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who produce and traffic Captagon.

Captagon is an addictive, amphetamine-like drug that is cheaply produced. Since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011, the country has become a regional hub for the production and smuggling of Captagon.

“This is a good step towards accountability and hindering and dismantling Assad’s illicit drug trade in Syria and the Middle East,” the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a Washington-based advocacy group, said in a statement.

The measure is seen as a continuation of previous congressional actions that have targeted the growing Captagon trade in Syria.

Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, policy chief of the American Coalition for Syria, said the new measure was sought by the Syrian American community “to address Assad’s pervasive involvement in the Captagon drug trade, which has tragically transformed Syria into a narco-state.”

“We are encouraged by the enactment of this bill into law,” Ghanem told VOA in an email. “Its inclusion in the comprehensive legislative package which was signed by the president into law highlights Congress' dedication to the objectives laid out in the original Captagon Act that Congress passed in Dec 2022.”

The bill was introduced to Congress by Republican Representative French Hill from Arkansas, who said Wednesday on X, “With my bill now signed into law, those directly involved with the proliferation of this dangerous drug will be targeted and sanctioned.

“It’s crucial that we take further action to disrupt and dismantle the production and trafficking of captagon as it generates billions of illicit funding for the Assad regime and devastates families in the region,” he said.

Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, two major backers of the Syrian government, have also been involved in drug trafficking in Syria. Observers say the trade also has funded Tehran’s military activities in the region.

Caroline Rose, director of the Strategic Blind Spots Portfolio at the Washington-based New Lines Institute, said the bill is part of a broader U.S. strategy that seeks to curb Captagon trafficking and production in the Middle East.

“We have seen two rounds of sanctions against Captagon agents imposed by the U.S. Treasury in the last two years, so this will keep the pressure on the U.S. inter-agency strategy to identify more eligible Captagon producers and traffickers to target,” she said.