The presence of a type of fenethylline drug compound called captagon is on the rise in Sudan. Used by Islamic State fighters in Syria, it is sometimes referred to as the ‘jihadi drug’.
Data from Sudan’s anti-narcotics police showed a steady increase in captagon trafficking. This was presented during the 20th annual general meeting of the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation. In 2010, a million captagon tablets were seized in the country. In 2014 more than 1.4 million tablets were impounded in Port Sudan. These tablets, weighing some 2.5 tonnes, were about to be shipped to Lebanon. The blister packs were hidden among yellow maize, and concealed in shipping cargo containers.
In 2017, police confiscated more than 2.4 million captagon tablets. The various seizures revealed that smugglers hide the drug in innovative ways. Some 88 000 captagon tablets were found at Khartoum International Airport, hidden in mobile phone chargers. Another seaizure saw around 200 000 tablets concealed in a consignment of apple crates.
In 2018 a factory with a production capacity of 300 tablets per minute was uncovered in Khartoum. Authorities also found captagon manufacturing ingredients like phenylacetic acid, amphetamine and theophylline, all of which are controlled substances. The presence of the factory indicates that Sudan is no longer a transit point for the drug, but has become a manufacturing centre.
Unlike cannabis, it is easy to hide or disguise captagon as legal medicine. Adooma Hazim, an INTERPOL regional expert, estimates the street value of a captagon tablet at US$0.2 to US$0.4. This makes it one of the cheapest and most accessible drugs available in Sudan. The substance is commonly used by university students.
The war on drugs in Sudan began in the 1970s, but it was only in 2003 that a specialised department was set up to combat drug trafficking. The lack of a dedicated department contributed to the prevalence of the crime. In 2015, the country developed a national drug control strategy. The main aim of this mechanism is to enable government to work with non-governmental organisations in combating drug trafficking.
The strategy is credited with the 2018 arrest in Khartoum of three high-profile captagon traffickers – namely Akram Daws, a Bulgarian national and leader of a drug trafficking network; Temelko Milhov, an ‘alchemist’ of captagon production and Mish’al Salim, a Syrian national reported to have headed logistics in captagon trafficking. Despite sentences of more than 20 years imprisonment each, captagon trafficking and consumption in Sudan remains a major concern. It is yet to be seen how effective the drug control strategy will prove to be.
Mohamed Daghar, Researcher, ENACT project, ISS