The leader of Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah has denied accusations it is involved in amphetamine production.
Sheikh Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, said there was “no credibility” to the allegations.
Suspicion fell on the group following the seizure in June 2020 of 14 tonnes (30,100lb) of the drugs in Italy.
The drugs came from the Syrian port of Latakia, according to the Italian authorities.
“We contacted officials in Italy in order to trace its origins,” Hassan Nasrallah said. “The accusations had no foundation in reality. On the contrary, they’re investigating the Islamic State, the Italian and Russian Mafia and other criminal networks.”
He said Hezbollah was being targeted by “fake news” and indicated western “propaganda” was behind the claims.
US and European drugs agencies have long accused the Lebanese group of profiting from the drugs trade.
In the televised speech, the secretary-general of Hezbollah said, “Our position on drugs, of all kinds, is [clear]. It’s religiously banned to manufacture, sell, buy, smuggle and consume. In some cases, the punishment could even be execution, according to Sharia laws.”
He said any involvement in the drugs business was banned by religious scholars, “even if the plan was to pass it on to the enemy”.
Israeli police blame Hezbollah for smuggling hashish into their country. Lebanon is one of the world’s largest producers of cannabis resin. The plant is grown openly, including in areas controlled by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
The Italian drug seizure was the largest of its kind. Some 85 million Captagon pills were found hidden inside a shipment of machine parts and industrial paper rolls in the Italian port of Salerno. The drugs were incinerated, under heavy guard, in December last year, along with an earlier shipment of hashish which also came from Syria.
Italy’s financial crimes squad, the Guardia di Finanza, initially said the pills, which it estimated were worth €1bn ($1.2bn; £900m) had been produced by the Islamic State Group.
However the scale of the production meant that was unlikely; factories inside territory controlled by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad were suspected. Captagon is also produced illegally in Lebanon.
After misidentifying the drugs’ source, the Italian authorities refused to comment publicly on who they believed was responsible for the production.
The haul was discovered after the authorities monitored a local crime group. But their involvement was thought to be only as brokers; the drugs weren’t bound for Europe, their final destination was believed to be Libya.
The Syrian regime and its allies have been accused of profiting from narcotics production. The lawlessness of Syria’s ongoing conflict and financial constraints, on the back of western sanctions, are believed to have led to a boom in illegal drug production.
Captagon is one of a number of drugs widely used by fighters in conflict zones. Initially developed to treat narcolepsy, it leaves users wired and alert. Fighters say it helps dim fear on the battlefield.
It’s also used recreationally and has flooded the Arab world. Large shipments have been seized in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan. In Egypt in November last year alone, there were three separate seizures totalling millions of Captagon pills, as well as tonnes of hashish, all of which arrived from Syria.