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Did a stimulant known as ‘the drug of jihad’ fuel Hamas terror on Oct. 7?

Hamas fighters may have taken captagon, a drug U.S. troops have repeatedly seized in the fight against ISIS in Syria.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
Over 127 plastic bags filled with an addictive drug called Captagon lie ready for destruction after being seized by U.S. and Coalition partners in Southern Syria, May 31, 2018. Reports have surfaced that captagon was taken widely by Hamas fighters to fuel the October 7 murder spree in Israel. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Brown.

Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel on October 7 on a rampant murder and kidnapping spree that killed more than 1,000 people and took hundreds more hostage. The attacks have plunged much of the region into warfare, with several thousand now believed dead across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as Israeli forces hunt fighters and leaders of Hamas.

Now a claim has surfaced that many of the Hamas fighters on Oct. 7 were using the illegal stimulant captagon — the common name for fenethylline, a synthetic amphetamine-type stimulant common in the Middle East, Africa and southern Europe — when they carried out the attacks.

US forces in Syria have tracked the captagon trade there, announcing large-scale seizures of the drug in Syria in both 2018 and 2019.

The claim that Hamas fighters were fueled by captagon on October 7 was first made on Israeli television Channel 12. Semafor and USA Today reported last week that unnamed officials confirmed the report. USA Today cited Israeli officials while Semafor attributed the confirmation to both Israeli and American ones.

If captagon was widely used, it would be after years of the United States and its partners in the Middle East stepping up efforts to crack down on drug trade in the region. The drug has been around since the 1960s, but its modern form has become the source of major drug trafficking operations around the Middle East.

Its sale has financed both the Assad regime in Syria and terror groups like ISIS and terrorists have been known to take the stimulant as well. It’s not exclusively the drug of militants — captagon has a growing reputation as a party drug in the region — but it has gained monikers such as the “jihadist drug” as well as terms like “poor man’s cocaine.”

So was captagon used by Hamas on Oct. 7? Caroline Rose, director of New Lines Institute’s Strategic Blind Spots Portfolio, said it is extremely unlikely. 

“[The officials] mentioned and hinted that it was found or chemically found in Hamas fighters on Oct. 7. That’s very difficult to see,” she said.

Rose said that the Israeli security forces have not produced any evidence to back up the claims put out in those outlets by anonymous officials. In the month since Oct. 7, Israel has not shown photographic or chemical evidence showing any widespread captagon use by Hamas in the attacks last month. 

Captagon is a stimulant. When taken, beyond some general high, it is said to energize those who take it, making them stay awake longer. In essence, it functions like the various drugs and “go pills” militaries took throughout parts of the 20th century to operate longer.

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Task & Purpose contacted the Pentagon and National Security Council for comment on the reports of captagon use in the Oct. 7 attacks but had not received a response.

What is known is that captagon has been spreading throughout the Middle East, and the United States military and its armed forces have been seizing it and fighting traffickers of it as part of its mission against ISIS.

The scale of the captagon trade is something that top commanders in the region have noticed.

“This is a very real risk that this drug trade could spread more broadly across the region and even beyond the region,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said in a State Department briefing in June 2023. “And so I do think it’s something that we all ought to be focused on and we all ought to be concerned about.”

However, he added, “from the U.S. perspective, this is primarily not a military mission.” Despite Grynkewich’s assertion, the military has been playing a part in disrupting the trade. It and its coalition partners have been active in the fight against the captagon trade for several years, as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the combat mission against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. 

One of the first major actions was in May 2018, when U.S. troops and partners in the region seized more than $1 million in captagon pills from ISIS fighters. Similar raids found millions in captagon in the following years. Since then, Combined Special Operations Joint Task Force-Levant, part of the wider Operation Inherent Resolve mission, has taken the lead in this front and has highlighted seizures of captagon caches on social media and elsewhere. 

Although the U.S. military has not released details on how the captagon fight fits in with Operation Inherent Resolve, some posts over the years have shown the drugs immediately being burned or destroyed after seizure. The Operation Inherent Resolve inspector general’s report earlier this year called the captagon trade a threat to regional security. 

Captagon itself was created in the 1960s from fenethylline. Rose said that the modern version of the drug, found in pill form, is far removed from that. Instead, it’s a mashup of amphetamines, sometimes methamphetamines, quinine, caffeine, and other materials, sometimes even zinc or copper. It is comparable to a lower-quality Adderall or Ritalin. The Assad regime in Syria is believed to be behind a large part of the distribution of the drug, fueling its coffers after years of civil war and isolation from its brutal crackdown on dissidents and rebels. 

The captagon trade has continued to grow, but there has also been an increase in efforts to interdict or crack down on traffickers in the Middle East. In one instance in August that shows the nature of the smuggling, Jordan’s military shot down a drone full of captagon that was flying from Syria. 

Combined Special Operations Joint Task Force-Levant, along with its partner forces, have been going after captagon traffickers more in the last two years. That’s led to more seizures and raids, as well as interdictions such as the drone shootdown in August. 

As for the trade of captagon into Gaza, the size of the trafficking is unclear, Rose said. Israel has not highlighted many seizures, but Hamas itself has claimed to have stopped shipments into the Gaza Strip. It likely is happening, as it is elsewhere in the region, Rose said, but there is still no solid evidence of the drug playing any major operational role in the Oct. 7 attacks. 

“My hunch is that it’s likely some drugs were found in convoys, but not necessarily captagon,” Rose said. “Because captagon has a strong history of being affiliated with militants, that’s why we’re seeing mass narratives [about this] when it’s very unlikely.”

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