24 million painkillers from India seized in Italy, meant for Islamic State

Batches of the synthetic opiate, used by Islamic State fighters to suppress pain and boost resilience, were intercepted in the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro en route to Libya from India, with the help of agents from the US drug enforcement administration.

world Updated: Nov 04, 2017 21:58 IST
Agencies, Rome
Islamic State,Italy,Terrorism
Similar shipments of Tramadol were intercepted in the northern port of Genoa in May, and in Greece last year.(Representative image)

The Italian police have seized tablets of a synthetic opiate, allegedly sourced by an Indian firm and destined for the Islamic State (IS) in Libya, a court said on Saturday.

Financial police discovered over 24 million tramadol tablets being transported from India to Libya at the port of Gioia Tauro. The painkiller, described as the “fighter drug”, is popular among jihadists for its ability to dull pain and suppress fatigue.

The haul is estimated to be worth €50 million and was found following a police crackdown sparked by the discovery of a similar shipment in Genoa in May. Police suspect the haul was destined to be sold by IS to its fighters for about €2 a pill.

“According to the information shared with foreign investigative sources, the traffic of Tramadol is directly handled by IS to finance terrorist activities planned and carried out across the world,” the court in Reggio Calabria city said.

Part of the money raised from the sales would also go “to subsidise terrorist groups and extremists operating in Libya, Syria and Iraq,” it said.

Renzo Nisi, a financial police captain involved in the May operation in Genoa, said tramadol “is produced extremely cheaply in India and Pakistan”. Investigators also suggested ties between the mafia and the IS, noting that it is “impossible” to smuggle goods through the port without their agreement.

Owing to its cheap price and potency, tramadol dependency has reached crisis levels in much of Libya and Egypt. Use of the drug, normally only available on prescription, is also rampant among fighters of the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram.

In May, 37 million tramadol pills were found packed in three containers at the port of Genoa, labelled as blankets and shampoo and set to be loaded on a freighter bound for Misrata and Tobruk in Libya.

Italian investigators traced the shipment to an Indian pharmaceuticals company, which allegedly sold the pills for $250,000 to a Dubai-based importer. The importer shipped the pills to Sri Lanka, where they reportedly disappeared from the freighter’s documents.

This is not the first time that an Indian firm has been tied to IS activities. In February 2016, a study by UK-based Conflict Armament Research found that seven Indian companies were involved in the supply chain of more than 700 components used by IS to construct improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The study noted that all the components were “legally exported under government-issued licenses from India to entities in Lebanon and Turkey”, and the firms were mostly unaware of the final destination of the products.

On the publication of the report, four of the seven companies denied exporting the components to Lebanon or Turkey.

First Published: Nov 04, 2017 20:12 IST