By Andrew Arnett

The ISIS propaganda machine has been pushing a very specific image, one of strict adherence to Sharia Law. Sharia Law contains the religious and morale codes of conduct for followers of Islam. These codes are often brutally enforced by ISIS, and those things deemed Haram (sinful or forbidden) are not tolerated.

Falling under the category of Haram are those items considered to be intoxicants, such as alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. The Islamic State has made a very public display of carrying out a strong anti-drug policy. Videos on Youtube uploaded by ISIS show militants burning captured marijuana fields, destroying bottles of liquor and drug paraphernalia, etc.

[quote_right](…)this image conflicts with reports coming out of Syria which exposes the Islamic State as being major users and distributors of powerful narcotic drugs[/quote_right]

But this image conflicts with reports coming out of Syria which exposes the Islamic State as being major users and distributors of powerful narcotic drugs.

On October 11, the Mirror reported that dead ISIS rebels in the town of Kobani had been found with pills in their possession.

Ekram Ahmet, a Kurd who fled Kobani with his family, told Mirror: “They are filthy, with straggly beards and long black nails.”

“They have lots of pills with them that they all keep taking. It seems to make them more crazy if anything.”

“They become agitated and excited, desperate to punish even children for the smallest thing.”

(c) Andrew Arnett
(c) Andrew Arnett

On September 18, the International Business Times reported on how voice analysis’ show that ISIS killer ‘Jihadi John’s’ “distinctive speech pattern” may indicate he was high on amphetamines when beheading captive David Haines.

Then, on Ocober 28, CNN interviewed a captured ISIS militant who claimed ISIS drugged fighters before they went into battle.

“They gave us drugs,” the prisoner told CNN. “Hallucinogenic pills that would make you go to battle not caring if you live or die.”

[quote_right]”My understanding, based on what I gathered from YPG testimonies, is that ISIS members are taking these drugs to fain courage during the fight and stay alert.”[/quote_right]

I asked Washington D.C. based Syria and Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu if he was aware of this correlation between ISIS and drugs.

“Yes, drug use by ISIS is nothing new,” he told me.

“I have heard many times from YPG commanders that they have seized large amounts of pills, heroin, syringes and other substances from killed ISIS members.”

“Why,” I asked, “Would ISIS want to take drugs, when it’s going against their own prohibitions?”

“A number of fighters,” he said, “Told me they’ve come across many ISIS members under drug influence while fighting who acted weird, almost unaware what they were doing. My understanding, based on what I gathered from YPG testimonies, is that ISIS members are taking these drugs to fain courage during the fight and stay alert.”

“What implications,” I asked him, “Does this have on the war against ISIS?”

“The way drug use may affect the fighting in Kobani is that it is likely to make it easier for ISIS to send in fighters who are “alert and high” to the frontline where fierce fighting takes place. In addition to religious motivation which drives many extremists to fight, drug use may further create motivation for extremists and to keep pressuring YPG with unending fighters wiling to die.”

(c) Andrew Arnett
(c) Andrew Arnett

Last December, I flew to Gaziantep in southern Turkey to further investigate links between ISIS and narcotics.

On December 3, the day of my arrival, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara had issued a warning for U.S. citizens traveling to Gaziantep.

“We remind U.S. citizens,” cites the report,  “That the situation in southeast Turkey, while usually calm, can change without warning and U.S. citizens should avoid traveling in areas close to the Syrian border.”

According to the report, extremist groups were planning to attack the Syrian Interim Government building located in Gaziantep.

“U.S. citizens,” the report added,  “Should take precaution in any meetings with individuals claiming to represent or be affiliated with anyone involved in the Syrian conflict.”

Not long ago, before the Syrian uprising in 2011, Gaziantep was known more for its world renowned baklava and pistachio cultivation. Now labeled the “Jihadist Highway,” Gaziantep has been thrust into the media spotlight due to its unique geographic location.

Its proximity to the Syrian border, only 40 miles away, makes it a conduit for smugglers, refugees, spies and jihadists eager to join their brethren in the fight for Syria.

In addition, there is the smuggling of contraband through these very same channels, such as arms, oil, and drugs.

[quote_right]”The PKK have been smuggling drugs and weapons for so many years, for a very long time. That is how they’ve been earning money”[/quote_right]

With a population of 1.5 million, comprised mostly of working class families, one gets the feeling that Gaziantep would prefer keeping a lower profile, eschewing the notoriety that has been foisted upon it.

“The situation is going to deteriorate,” Meltem told me as she sipped a Turkish coffee in the lobby of the Gaziantep Holiday Inn. She works for the United Nations, assisting Syrian refugees in Turkey.

“The Middle East has always been a problem and it is more of a problem now, more than ever. Before we had Al Qaeda but now we have ISIS, cutting the heads off of the people.”

“I’ve heard there’s a pipeline,” I said “Whereby guns, oil, and even drugs are being moved. Have you heard anything about drugs being smuggled over the border?”

“Sure, of course,” she said. “This is not a new thing. The PKK have been smuggling drugs and weapons for so many years, for a very long time. That is how they’ve been earning money.”

“PKK the terrorist organization,” I said.

“Yes, that’s how they were making money and laundering money in Europe. The drugs that are going to Europe and to the States are mainly traveling this route.”

“They start in Afghanistan, passing through Iraqi and Iranian borders, then through Turkey and on to Europe.”

“This is not something new, this has always been like this. That’s how they’ve been making money.”

“What about ISIS? I asked, “Do you think they are using this route for the same purposes?”

“Yes,” she said  “Obviously.”

The narco-trafficking proclivities of the PKK have been well documented, going back decades.

A 1995 report prepared by the Drug Enforcement Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice claims that “the PKK is engaged in drug trafficking and money laundering activities and is well-established in the production of almost all kinds of opium products and their smuggling.”

It further states that the revenue from these activities  are “used in purchasing firearms, munitions and other equipment used by the terrorists.”

A report by Dr. François Haut of the Paris Institute of Criminology in Brussels on 25 April 1997 states that the PKK is “engaged in producing, refining and marketing of drugs and has contacts in numerous countries.” The turnover from such activity profits the PKK in the millions of US dollars, according to the report.

In addition, a report by Jean Claude Salomon, François Haut and Jean-Luc Vannier for the Paris Institute of Criminology from 1996 states that “ the narcotics route that runs through Turkey to the Balkans and western Europe benefits the “separatist” organizations of Turkish/Kurdish origin and the PKK militants and their intermediaries.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is well aware of the hypocrisy of ISIS and their links to drugs.

At an international symposium on counter-narcotics policies in Istanbul on September 28, Erdoğan stated “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, but rather consists of militants who are drug addicts.”

Erdoğan has subsequently strengthened Turkey’s commitment to battling the scourge of ISIS, in alliance with Iraq. Meanwhile, he has an open door policy for refugees fleeing the wrath of ISIS. Turkey has accepted over 200,000 Syrian refugees, many of them located in camps in the southern Turkish city of Suruc.

(c) Andrew Arnett
(c) Andrew Arnett

While waiting for my press credentials at the Suruc Press Center, I discussed the ISIS situation with Ismail, the Turkish official in charge of issuing press passes for the area overlooking the Syrian town of Kobani.

“I go to the hill overlooking Kobani almost everyday,” he tells me.

[quote_right]“Yes, they use Zolam, heroin, captagon”[/quote_right]

“Just last night the U.S. dropped bombs, killing 25 Daesh fighters.”

“Have you heard anything about ISIS militants using drugs?” I asked.

“Yes, they use Zolam, heroin, captagon.”


“Yes, they use it to stay awake. At night they enter into Kobani and reinforce their soldiers.”

Captagon, it turns out, is the biggest thing to hit the Middle East since oil.

In January of 2014, Reuters reported on how Syria has become a major consumer and exporter of amphetamines, the most popular being captagon.

According to Reuters, captagon “generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues in Syria, potentially providing funding for weapons, while the drug itself helps combatants dig in for long, grueling battles.”

(c) Andrew Arnett
(c) Andrew Arnett

In 2013, the Lebanese government seized 12.3 million captagon pills near the border of Lebanon and Syria, while the Turkish police captured 7 million pills en route from Syria to Saudi Arabia.

On November 26, 2014, The National reported that “Large amounts of Captagon are manufactured in Syria due to the lawlessness pervading the country amid the civil war. Neighboring Lebanon has become a gateway for the drug to reach the rest of the region. Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) have seized 55 million pills over the past year, hidden in contraptions ranging from furniture to wood processing machines.”

Captagon is a brand name for the drug Fenethylline, invented in 1961 by Degussa AG for the treatment of “hyperkinetic children,” or children diagnosed with ADHD.

Fenethylline is metabolized by the body to form the compounds amphetamine and theophylline. Theophylline is a chemical from the Xanthine class, which also includes caffeine.

[quote_right]These powerful narcotics may go a long to explaining why ISIS members are so virulent and fight with suicidal abandon.[/quote_right]

Smarter Nootropics states that “When Captagon is taken, it becomes in vivo d-amphetamine and theophylline, and these two new compounds are absorbed into the blood stream, and can now cross the blood brain barrier and become centrally active.”

However, a study conducted in 2005 by Alabdalla MA for Forensic Science International of 124 batches of seized captagon, revealed they contained no fenethylline at all. Rather, these counterfeit captagon tablets contained amphetamine, methamphetamine, ephedrine, metronidazole, caffeine, theophylline, chlorphenamine, procaine, trimethoprim, chloroquine, and quinine. In short, a drug cocktail far more potent than the original name brand version.

These powerful narcotics may go a long to explaining why ISIS members are so virulent and fight with suicidal abandon.

Links between aggression and amphetamine usage have been well researched and documented.

Miczek and Haney (1993) found that “amphetamines and other psychomotor stimulants profoundly alter social and aggressive behavior in humans, ranging from complete social withdrawal to sudden violent outbursts.”

Studies with animals show that drug dosage and behavioral history are important determinants for aggression.

Miczek and Haney (1993) recreated an experiment which utilized adult male mice housed in clear polycarbonate cages. Foreign mice were placed into the home cage and behavioral effects of d-amphetamine on the mice were compared and contrasted with the control group. The study showed that “Once per week, in a separate 5-min experimental session in the afternoon, they (mice) exhibited aggressive behavior toward an opponent who was placed as an intruder into their home cage.”

This confirmed earlier findings showing “amphetamines increase the murine aggressive behavior at single low doses under such conditions ( Miczek and Tidey 1989) and more reliably when mice are habituated to an intruding opponent (Winslow and Miczek 1983).”

Aggression in the brain appears to be triggered by an interruption of dopamine re-uptake. Miczek and Haney (1993) explain that “the well known pre-synaptic actions of low to intermediate doses of amphetamines range from releasing newly synthesized dopamine (DA) and no repinephrine,  stimulating these catecholamines’ syntheses  and blocking their re-uptake.”

(c) Andrew Arnett
(c) Andrew Arnett

On January 7, two Islamic gunmen named Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 employees and two police officers. The extremists claimed to be members of Al Qaeda in Yemeni.

A third man, Amedy Coulibaly, linked to the two gunmen and believed to be part of the same terrorist cell, was killed on January 9 in a shoot out with police at a kosher market in eastern Paris.

In a video uploaded to Youtube, Coulibaly is seen swearing allegiance to the Islamic State, with the ISIS flag behind him.

On January 10, the Associated Press interviewed two drug dealing friends of Coulibaly. The article states: “One fellow drug dealer from the Paris suburb of Bretigny said Coulibaly regularly sold marijuana and hashish to high school students, and as recently as a month ago, was still dealing dope at La Grande Borne, a tough public housing estate to the south of Paris.”

The discrepancy between Muslim fanatics and drug abuse continues, and is not without historic precedence.

The Order of the Hashshashin were a sect from the Shia branch of Islam, founded in the 11th century by Hassan-I-Sabbah . They used sex, drugs, religion, political maneuverings, and murder to gain unprecedented power in the Middle East. The term ‘assassin’ is reported to have been derived from the word Hashshashin, which also refers to the cannabis drug hashish. Indeed, the literal interpretation of the name means “hashish consuming intoxicated assassins.”

Hassan-I-Sabbah was a Persian revolutionary, scholar, and mystic, who transcended in the arts of murder and manipulation.

Hassan mastered the techniques of assassination, the poison dipped dagger being his signature method for eliminating rivals. The Hashshashins were also keen on kidnapping as means for intimidation and elimination of rivals.

The utilization of intoxicants like hashish  were part of an elaborate system whereby the Hashshashins used mind control techniques to gain converts.

[quote_right]“Nothing is forbidden. Everything is permitted”[/quote_right]

William S. Burroughs stated that Hassan-I-Sabbah is “the only spiritual leader with anything to say in the Space Age.”

Hassan is quoted as saying, on his death bed, “Nothing is forbidden. Everything is permitted.”

Standing on the hill overlooking Kobani, thinking about all the lives affected by the madness of ISIS, I could see how ISIS may have adopted Hassan’s philosophy, and how drugs could exacerbate the insanity.