Syria's 'Pablo Escobar': Who was Marei Al-Ramthan, the infamous drug lord?

Syria's 'Pablo Escobar': Who was Marei Al-Ramthan, the infamous drug lord?
Marei Al-Ramthan, who was killed in an air raid on Monday with his wife and children, was accused of being behind the Captagon trade from Syria to Jordan.
4 min read
09 May, 2023
Al-Ramthan led an armed gang which transported the drugs across borders [Getty/archive]

Airstrikes which killed a drug trafficker known as Syria’s "Pablo Escobar" and destroyed a drugs factory on Monday could mark a new course of action taken by countries largely affected by the illicit trade in Captagon originating in Syria.

Marei Al-Ramthan, his wife and six children were killed in an air raid near the Syrian-Jordanian border in the province of Suweida. His home in the village of Al-Sha'ab was left in ruins.

Another airstrike reportedly hit an abandoned Iran-linked drugs factory in the adjacent Daraa province, also destroying it.

While local and intelligence sources in Amman have said the Jordanian air force was behind it, Jordan has yet to officially confirm the strike.

This would be a very rare Jordanian strike in Syria during its 12-year conflict.

Jordan takes action

It came only days after Amman threatened military action within Syrian territory if drug trafficking is not curbed. The drug trade has seen deadly border clashes between Jordan’s military and smugglers.

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 Gulf has pressed the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to clamp down on the trade, which is said to have been a main source of regime financing for years.  

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"The strikes were a message to Damascus that it should not mistake Amman's resolve at a time it was leading an Arab effort to end Syria's estrangement," two officials said to Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Jordanian officials say their concerns about the rise in drug smuggling had been raised in recent months in security meetings with Syrian authorities, where they received pledges but had not seen any real attempt to clamp down on the trade," Reuters quoted them as saying.

The drugs factory in the Daraa town of Kharab al-Shahem was believed to have been a meeting point for Hezbollah-paid smugglers, Ryan Maarouf - a Syrian researcher tracking the drug trade – told Reuters, corroborating accounts by local sources familiar with the matter.

Who was Marei Al-Ramthan?

Syrian drug kingpin Al-Ramthan had recruited hundreds of Bedouin transporters who joined the ranks of Iran-linked militias that hold sway in southern Syria, Jordanian and regional intelligence sources said.

He had been sentenced to death on several occasions in recent years in absentia by Jordanian courts for drugs trafficking, according to judicial sources.

In July last year, a Jordanian court had given Al-Ramthan and others wanted for drug crimes 10 days to hand themselves in, according to a report by pan-Arab news website Arabi21.

Formerly a cattle herder, Al-Ramthan entered the illegal business in 2006 to become one of the most prominent and wealthiest drug dealers in southern Syria, Arabi21 reported.

About 47 years old when he was killed, he hails from the small village of Al-Sha'ab, located about 20 km north of Jordan’s border in the Suweida desert. His family, the Al-Ramthan tribe, is spread between southern Syria and northern Jordan.

He possessed great wealth, including real-estate and restaurants in Damascus, hundreds of camels and cattle, and several cars, one of which is bulletproof which he reportedly bought from the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon.

He is said to have moved around quite often between different parts of Syria or Lebanon to avoid being caught by the authorities or taken out.

Both Hezbollah and Iran have long denied any involvement in the Captagon trade, calling accusations "Western propaganda."

(The New Arab, Reuters)