'We know where you are': Syria drug dealers warned by Jordan via text

'We know where you are': Syria drug dealers warned by Jordan via text
4 min read
17 May, 2023
Suspected drug smugglers in southern Syria have received messages on their phone warning them they will be targeted if they do not hand themselves over to Jordan.
Jordan has become both a destination and a main transit route from Syria to the Gulf for the Captagon amphetamine [Getty/archive]

Warning text messages were sent out to dozens of people in southern Syria wanted for drug crimes, urging them to hand themselves over to Jordanian authorities.

The messages, reportedly received by suspected drug dealers in the Daraa and Suweida governorates from an unknown sender, called on them to surrender to Jordanian border guards or face a similar fate to Marei al-Ramthan, one of Syria's most notorious drug dealers.

Al-Ramthan was killed in what was believed to be a Jordanian airstrike on his house earlier this month. His wife and six children were killed with him.

A drugs factory was also destroyed in another airstrike.

They came days after warnings from Amman to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to curb drug smuggling.

Activist Abu al-Baraa al-Hourani confirmed the text messages were sent, in an interview with The New Arab’s sister site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

"The [text] message included threats that in the event of non-compliance with orders, the fate of those who work in the promotion, trade and smuggling of drugs will face the same fate of Marei Al-Ramthan," said Al-Hourani.

The messages contained information about the whereabouts of the suspected fugitives.

"Al-Ramthan will not be the last," read the text messages, warning that Jordan was ready to strike inside Syria "at any time."

Daraa and Suweida – both largely within Syrian regime control – sit on the border with Jordan, which has become a main transit route for drug smugglers looking to reach the Gulf.


Drug dealers raided by Syrian regime forces

Al-Hourani said Syrian regime forces raided sites in the last few days belonging to two prominent drug dealers in southern Syria.

He said one of them was Abu Salem al-Khalidi, who allegedly works for the Syrian military’s Fourth Division led by the Syrian president’s brother, as well as the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah militant group, which has backed Bashar al-Assad’s forces throughout the 12-year Syrian conflict.

Hezbollah has long denied its involvement in the illicit trade.

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The raid happened in the Syrian-Jordanian border village of Khrab al-Shahm in Daraa’s western countryside, close to the drugs factory which was hit in the airstrike. 

While Al-Khalidi was not found, his brother and cousin were arrested, Al-Hourani told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

The second raid on Monday targeted a site used by Rafeh Ruwais, in the town of Maaraba in Daraa’s southeastern countryside, around 10 km away from Jordan’s border. He was also not found.

"The majority of drug dealers in the Daraa and Suweida governorates have recently evacuated their locations, especially after what happened with Marei Al-Ramthan. They fear the Syrian regime will send their locations and coordinates to Jordan, for something in return," Al-Hourani told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.


Assad at the Arab League

Jordan has become both a destination and a main transit route to the oil-rich Gulf countries for Captagon, a cheap but very dangerous amphetamine that Western and Arab states say is produced in and exported by war-ravaged Syria.

The trade has led to deadly border clashes between Jordanian forces and drug smugglers.

The Gulf and other Arab states have for years pressed President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to clamp down on the trade, which is said to have become a main source of regime financing.

Some analysts claim that in return for ending the illicit trade in his country, Assad seeks compensation.

Assad has been welcomed back into the Arab fold and will most likely attend his first Arab League summit later this week, after a number of countries – most notably Saudi Arabia - improved ties with Damascus in recent months.

His regime was expelled after its brutal crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations in Syria, which later spiralled into a full-blown conflict, which has seen the intervention of foreign armies and the creation of dozens of militias.

A five-party committee made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon will follow up on "commitments" made by Assad’s regime to solve pressing issues affecting the region, in particular Syria’s neighbours. Major sticking points include the drugs trade and refugee crisis.

As well as the deaths of over 500,000 people since 2011, millions of Syrians have been displaced by the conflict - most of them as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas - and neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan host a huge number of refugees.