The Drug Behind October 7

Hamas fighter

The Drug Behind October 7

How captagon is changing warfare in the Middle East

Blood stains the walls and floors of homes. Corpses of burned children and beheaded babies lie on the ground. Videos of people being tortured and having their bodies ripped apart circulate the Internet. This was the aftermath of Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. It is hard to comprehend the atrocities committed that day; it is even harder to understand how one person could do this to another.

Hamas had a lot of deadly weapons: AK-47s, thermobaric grenades and Shawaz antitank explosives. But one of the most dangerous was unseen: captagon.

Captagon is an amphetamine, a drug that speeds up the messages between the body and the brain. It was first produced in Germany in 1960s to treat hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy and depression. But in the 1980s, it was discontinued and branded illegal because it was so addictive. Studies have also found that captagon can irreversibly change the brain’s circuitry governing impulse control and judgment. When on the drug, a person is unable to reason or think rationally.

The drug is still produced illegally, and it is becoming common in armies and militant groups throughout the Middle East. Soldiers who take captagon can go hours or even days without food and sleep. It is nicknamed “cocaine for the poor” and is often called “chemical courage” because of its fear-suppressing properties.

In the days following October 7, Israeli officials found captagon pills on several Hamas soldiers. These pills helped terrorists commit unimaginable violence without remorse.

But Hamas is not the only user of this drug, nor is it its main consumer.

The Captagon Trade

Captagon is cheap and relatively easy to produce. Manufacturing a single pill costs three to four cents and can be done with repurposed dairy or chocolate manufacturing machinery.

It is most popular in Arab Gulf countries, where it has become a multibillion-dollar illegal trade. One pill typically costs about $1, but in countries where it is in high demand, like Saudi Arabia, it can be sold for up to $25.

Governments have tried to crack down on trafficking, but it has done little to discourage smugglers. In one drug bust in September, police in the United Arab Emirates seized 13 tons of captagon pills hidden inside 651 doors and 432 wooden panels in five different shipping containers. The haul was estimated to be worth more than $1 billion.

In December, German customs investigators seized 1,000 pounds of captagon near the city of Aachen. It was Germany’s largest captagon bust to date, worth approximately $64.5 million. The drugs came from Syria.

The Narco State

Syria is the biggest producer of captagon. In 2023, the United Kingdom estimated that Syria produced 80 percent of the world’s supply, giving it the nickname the “narco state” of the Middle East.

Following the 2011 Arab Spring protests and the start of Syria’s civil war, captagon became widespread. Militant and terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, took advantage of Syria’s large chemical industry and began making and selling captagon to raise funds for military activities. They also gave the pill to their soldiers to make them more effective in battle.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime stamped out some of these terrorist groups, but the trade never stopped. While Assad’s government denies involvement, some believe that rather than stopping captagon production, the regime simply took over, seeing the market’s monetary potential in the face of Syria’s troubles.

In 2022, the New Lines Institute, a think tank in Washington, estimated that Assad’s regime earned $5.7 billion from the captagon trade in 2021. That year Syria’s total gross domestic product was just shy of $9 billion. Half of Syria’s income came from captagon.

The Syrian government appears to use local alliance structures with other armed groups such as Hezbollah for technical and logistical support in captagon production and trafficking. As affiliates of the Syrian government and other actors seek to export captagon, they exploit governance deficits in the region by collaborating with a broad range of criminal networks, militant groups, mafia syndicates and autocratic governments.
—New Lines Institute

In 2022, the United States sanctioned six people believed to be involved in the captagon trade. Two of these individuals were President Assad’s cousins:

  • Samer Kamal Assad was the overseer of a key captagon production facility in Latakia, Syria.
  • Wassim Badi Assad was accused of being a key regional drug trafficker.

Syria’s Fourth Division

In 2023, bbc News Arabic Investigations discovered direct links between the captagon trade and Syria’s armed forces. Singled out for its involvement was Syria’s Fourth Division, an elite army unit designed to protect the government from internal and external threats. Assad’s younger brother, Maher Assad, heads the division, and is said to have turned the unit into an economic player.

A former officer of the Syrian Army explained to the bbc:

Because of the tough financial conditions which the officers and ranks are going through during the Syrian war, many members of the Fourth Division have resorted to smuggling. … [T]he cars of the Fourth Division’s officers started to be used to carry extremists, weapons, drugs, since it was the only body able to move across checkpoints in Syria.

Another Syrian soldier admitted his unit worked with the Fourth Division and Hezbollah to make extra money through smuggling:

They [the Fourth Division] would pick a meeting place and we would buy from Hezbollah. We would receive the goods and coordinate with the Fourth Division to facilitate our movement.

The bbc also discovered a potential link between a Lebanese-Syrian drug trafficker, Hassan Daqqou, and the head of the Fourth Division’s security department, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Bilal. Records of Daqqou’s WhatsApp messages show he had communication with a high-ranking official, nicknamed “The Boss,” about the movement of “goods” believed to be captagon shipments. Various sources told the bbc that the number belonged to General Bilal. If the sources were telling the truth, the messages would be direct evidence that one of Syria’s most senior army officers is directly involved in the captagon trade.

A New Kind of Warfare

The use of drugs in war is not new, as our article “Hamas, Drugs and Warfare” brings out: “Just as Greek hoplites and Roman legionnaires ran into battle fueled by alcohol, the Nazis’ blitzkrieg warfare was inflamed by the use of methamphetamines.” The low-cost and lucrative return of captagon is making it a growing danger.

These drugs can turn warfare into something inhuman. Why? Because they open peoples’ minds to something inhuman: demons.

Many do not believe in a spirit world, but the Bible says it is real. 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan the devil the “god of this world.” Ephesians 2:2 says he is “the prince of the power of the air,” working on the thoughts and impulses of unsuspecting individuals. The Bible also talks a lot about demons who can possess and take control of a person’s mind and body.

For this to happen, a person must open his mind to being possessed. This is exactly what drugs like captagon are known to do. They inhibit reason and people lose control of their minds, making them perfect targets for demons.

Hamas’s invasion of Israel is a graphic example of this. But the Bible prophesies of wars far more intense and gruesome than what happened on October 7. The demonic influence on mankind is getting much worse, and only God’s protection will keep people safe.

To learn more about the prophecies of future warfare and the hope of God’s intervention, read Chapter 2 of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.