Mike Jay at the LRB:
In October 2013 a Time magazine article entitled ‘Syria’s Breaking Bad’ alerted Western media to the prevalence across the region of a little-known stimulant drug, Captagon. Lebanese police had found five million locally produced tablets, embossed with a roughly stamped yin-yang symbol, sealed inside a Syrian-made water heater in transit to Dubai. In October 2015 Captagon made global headlines when the Saudi prince Abdel Mohsen was intercepted at Beirut airport with 32 shrink-wrapped boxes and eight leather suitcases containing two tons of top-grade pills, valued at £190 million. By this time rumours abounded on all sides in the Syrian war that Captagon was fuelling a grim cult of battlefield atrocities. An investigation by Vanity Fair in France last April uncovered a trail of testimonies and video images of pumped-up soldiers and ‘zombies roaming, all smiles, across fields of ruins and severed heads’. Caches of pills in ports and abandoned villages supplied the evidence.
On 13 November 2015, when terrorists massacred ninety people at the Bataclan in Paris, Captagon was immediately suspected. To Professor Jean-Pol Tassin, an addiction specialist at Inserm, the National Institute for Health and Medical Research, the killers’ ‘empty expressions, their determination, their mechanical movements’ all suggested that an amphetamine-type stimulant was involved. Dozens of articles profiled ‘la drogue des djihadistes’, explaining that Captagon replaced fear, doubt and fellow feeling with superhuman confidence, an implacable sense of mission and visions of imminent awakening in paradise.