Forty-seven million amphetamine pills hidden in a flour shipment were seized by Saudi Arabia's authorities at a warehouse after arriving through the dry port of the capital Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Interior said in a statement on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia is becoming the drug capital of the Middle East

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Police said he was under the influence of shabu, a methamphetamine, according to local newspapers.

Saudi media has recently sounded the alarm over rising drug use, with one columnist describing narcotics shipments to the kingdom as an “open war against us, more dangerous than any other war”.

The kingdom, they say, is one of the region’s biggest and most lucrative drug destinations, and that status is only escalating.

Wednesday’s operation was the largest smuggling attempt in terms of narcotics seized, according to the General Narcotics Control Bureau. Although authorities did not name the drug seized or where it came from, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has previously stated that “reports of seizures of amphetamines from countries in the Middle East continue to refer primarily to tablets bearing the Captagon logo.”

Captagon was originally the brand name for a drug containing the synthetic stimulant fenethylline. Although it is no longer produced legally, counterfeit drugs bearing the name captagon are regularly seized in the Middle East, according to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Captagon drug seizures in Saudi Arabia and the region have increased over time. Earlier this week, a US Coast Guard boat seized 320 kilograms of amphetamine tablets and nearly 3,000 kilograms of hashish worth millions of dollars from a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman.

The drug was popularized in the kingdom about 15 years ago, but has taken off more intensely in the last five years, “possibly becoming on par with cannabis”, according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, a member of the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, who wrote on the subject.

One of the reasons captagon is spreading is “because there is a flood of supply now coming mainly from Syria” where it is produced “on an industrial scale in the chemical plants inherited from the [Assad] regime” and provided by warlords and regime affiliates.

The Saudi Center for International Communication did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Captagon can be sold for between $10 and $25 a pill, meaning the last Saudi shipment, if it was the same drug, has a market value of up to $1.1 billion, figures show. from the International Addiction Review.

“Captagon’s amphetamine-like properties are researched as a coping mechanism that may help food-insecure users stave off hunger and induce a euphoric ‘rush’ that users say helps with traumatic stress” said Caroline Rose, a senior analyst at the New Lines Institute in Washington, DC, who has studied the captagon trade. “It has also been said that these same characteristics for captagon have been sought after by foreign workers in wealthy Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, seen as boosting job performance.”

While hashish and khat are also common drugs in the kingdom, amphetamines are popular among Saudi youth. A 2021 study in the journal Crime, Law and Social Change quoted one user as saying, “Captagon is small. My classmates and I like it more than hashish. Not like hash we can buy in tablet…… Once we get 25 riyals of [our] parents, we can buy a tablet and enjoy it.”

“In wealthier consumer markets, the drug has a different appeal, serving as a recreational activity among its growing population of young people who, despite social reforms…would have struggled with boredom amid widespread unemployment among young people and a lack of opportunities for leisure activities,” says Rose. “Some users have justified captagon as a less taboo substance, compared to ‘harder’ drugs like opiates and cocaine.”

Given that many young people in Saudi Arabia use drugs out of boredom and a lack of social opportunities, the increased freedoms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman could help curb some of that use, Felbab-Brown said.

“The important thing is neither to restrict freedoms, nor to turn concerts into places of raids and raids, but rather to educate young people,” she told CNN.

In recent years, a number of drug treatment centers have sprung up across the kingdom after the government began licensing private facilities.

Khalid Al Mashari, CEO of Qaweem, one of the first such centers to open, says about four or five have opened in the past two years. It shows the government’s recognition of the importance of rehabilitation, he says, but it also shows that the problem is on the rise.

“We are unfortunately in high demand,” he told CNN. “But at least people now have an option, instead of having to travel to neighboring countries for treatment.”

Despite the presence of rehabilitation centers, Rose says there are few public health messages or campaigns to raise awareness about captagon.

“While this taboo regarding drug use in the kingdom leads nowhere, the government’s tendency to exclusively secure this issue and downplay its role as a destination market will be harder to ignore,” she said.

Felbab-Brown says drug policies in the Middle East have focused on the tougher answers.

“Unlike large parts of the world [that] abandoned these rigid and mostly ineffective or downright counterproductive policies, the Middle East often doubled down on them,” she said. “Imprisoning users is ineffective and counterproductive.

The summary

US says Iran’s response to EU proposal to revive nuclear deal ‘not constructive’

A State Department spokesman said the United States on Thursday received Iran’s response to the United States’ response to an EU proposal for reviving the nuclear deal. “We are studying it and will respond via the EU, but unfortunately it is not constructive,” the spokesperson said. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said earlier that Tehran’s response was sent after it had been “carefully” reviewed and “with the aim of finalizing negotiations”, according to a statement.
  • Background: Earlier this week, at a press conference in Russia, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Iran needed guarantees that the United States would not withdraw from nuclear deal and would not apply new sanctions as happened under the Trump administration.
  • Why is this important: The United States and Iran exchanged responses to a “final” EU text aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that he hoped the talks could be concluded within a few days. French President Macron also said on Thursday that he hoped to conclude the talks in the coming days. It is unclear how the talks will progress from here as Iran continues to increase its uranium enrichment and break its commitments under the nuclear deal.

Four dead in Shia clashes in Basra, Iraq

Clashes between rival Shiite groups killed four people in Iraq’s Basra on Thursday as the fallout from the country’s worst political violence in years continues, Reuters reported. Basra is the main oil-producing city in Iraq and now the violence has spread from Baghdad to the south.

  • Background: The violence began earlier this week in Baghdad when the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced his resignation from political life. The move sparked an intense series of infighting between Iran-backed Shiite groups and al-Sadr supporters. Both sides have been trying to exert control since parliamentary elections in October 2021 saw Iranian-backed blocs lose seats to the Sadrists. Despite his victory, al-Sadr failed to form a government despite opposition from his rivals.
  • why is it important: The episode served as a reminder of the fragility of the government in Baghdad, which has remained largely neutral in the crisis, as well as competing domestic and foreign actors seeking to control the country’s politics.

Turkish pop star faces up to 3 years in prison for joking about religious schools

Singer Gulsen Bayraktar Colakoglu, known as Gulsen, could face a prison term of up to three years for comments made at a concert in April, according to a 48-page indictment. Istanbul’s chief prosecutor’s office filed charges for “incitement of the public to hatred and enmity”, according to the indictment.
  • Background: Last week, Gulsen was jailed pending trial after a video circulating on social media showed her commenting on religious schools in Turkey, according to state-run Anadolu news agency. . During a concert in April, Gulsen said: “[He] graduate of Imam Hatip [religious schools.] That’s where her evil side comes from,” referring to a person on stage. The singer denied the accusation, saying it was a joke, and apologized to those offended by it. her remarks. She has since been released but placed under house arrest. A criminal court in Istanbul will assess the indictment and decide whether to accept or deny it. If accepted, hearings will begin and Gulsen will face trial. before the tribunal.
  • Why is this important: Gulsen has previously been targeted by conservative groups in Turkey for her revealing stage outfits and support for the LGBTQ community. His recent arrest sparked outrage and support from fans on social media. Some critics say it is part of a move by Turkish officials to win support from their religious and conservative base ahead of next year’s election.

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