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ISIS and the Drug Trade

By Charlie Josh Reardon

The deadly attacks in Paris last November have changed the way the world views and deals with the growing threat of the Islamic State, a threat that’s closer to home than many were prepared to acknowledge. 

Their success in this sense has only given more credibility to the group and sent the governments of the world into high alert. The UK is currently steeling themselves for more violence and a recent statement from commissioner Mark Rowley, national head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yards, warns of massive impending attacks from ISIS. So far, allied response has yielded mixed results but the ISIS propaganda machine continues to go strong and recruitment hasn’t show any sign of slowing. Their leadership remains largely intact as well.

Bullets and bombs aren’t the only threats the Islamic State is exporting to the western world. Reports from the Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation (FSKN) have also estimated that ISIS makes up to one billion dollars a year from the heroin trade, and that the current state of the organization could further increase their interest in the market. 

Despite their success with the Paris attacks, the caliphate has seen better days. Although they’ve made gains in central Syria, ISIS has also lost a significant portion of it’s territory in the last year, including sizable chunks in northern Syria and in Iraq near Baghdad. There are also signs of the organization tightening its budget as it begins losing its main sources of income. Allied air raids on ISIS controlled oil fields and pipelines, as well as the overall slump in oil prices, has put pressure on their biggest money maker. Tax collection from conquered populations is proving less effective as well, as the people continue to flee from Syria and Iraq.

The result has been budget cuts on wages and personnel and Isis seems open to branch out into other ventures. A desperate, cash strapped ISIS could mean more narcotics flooding the market.

An organization like ISIS would have no difficulty melding in with the criminal networks already established in the Middle East. Drugs and warfare are standard in the area, and regional instability is the perfect setting for production and distribution. Isis also has an influence in Afghanistan, the largest exporter of illicit opiates in the world. Cultivation in the region has only increased since the end of the Taliban’s rule, reaching record high in 2014.


Amphetamines are becoming popular in the Middle East as well. Not long after the collapse of Syria, reports surfaced of hundreds of millions of dollars being made through the production and distribution of an illegal amphetamine called Captagon. It increases alertness, focus and physical performance as well as provides a euphoric feeling. The drug has spread all across the Middle East down to the Arabian gulf and trade routes stretch as far as Poland and Bulgaria.
According to a report, The Russians even point a finger at Turkey. 

A joint probe by Russia and Afghanistan into drug smuggling in the area claims that a cargo of drugs made its way out of Syria, through Iran and into Turkey. There, the report claims, the opium was processed into high grade heroin to be sent into Russia and Europe. He also contributes the recent spike in ISIS recruitment to successful shipments. Turkey has already been under suspicion of supporting the group, although the government denies any involvement. 

Thousands of Captagon pills that were being smuggled into Saudi Arabia. Photo Via: Jordan Times

ISIS even seems to be getting their own men hooked on drugs like Captagon and recent raids on ISIS members have turned up huge amounts of pills. In an interview with CNN, captured members of ISIS claimed that, in addition to being forced into the group, they were constantly drugged, especially before battles and beheadings. These men would charge into the fray, numb and carefree, running headlong at tanks and armed only with swords, completely convinced of their invincibility. Some even killed members of their own family and didn’t notice until the high wore off.

The true extent of ISIS’ involvement with the drug trade is still largely unknown, but they have the motives and means to inflict serious harm through the black market, while funding their campaign at the same time. As long as ISIS has access to trade routes, plantations and laboratories, they have another weapon to use against the western way of life. And for both their enemies and their own men, ISIS’ control over the drug trade would spell bad news for everyone.