“When Moïse found out about the weapons Hérard ordered, he wasn’t surprised — he was scared,” Mr. Fortuné said.
Mr. Moïse’s relationship with the presidential security forces, already on tenterhooks, further soured. But that changed in February, when Mr. Hérard claimed to have foiled a coup attempt against Mr. Moïse. Suddenly, the distrust waned. Some former aides, like Ms. Antoine and Mr. Fortuné, wondered whether the supposed coup was a false flag, to throw off Mr. Moïse’s suspicions about Mr. Hérard.
After the coup scare, Mr. Moïse went on the offensive, publicly blasting Haiti’s oligarchs and political elite for trying to kill him, including in one of his final interviews with The Times before his death.
Behind the scenes, Haitian officials say, Mr. Moïse began working to take down his perceived enemies. He spoke with his closest aides and select officials to start compiling the dossier breaking down narcotics and weapons smuggling networks in Haiti, including Mr. Saint-Rémy, according to the people involved with the document.
In February, Josua Alusma, the mayor of Port-du-Paix and a close Moïse ally, ordered a crackdown on the eel trade, the industry dominated by Mr. Saint-Rémy. Many of the eels go to China, but the Haitian police are investigating the industry as a way to launder illicit profits.
“I don’t like this business. It happens at night, do you know what I’m saying?” Mr. Alusma said. “There’s no security.”
He said the industry needed to be regulated and taxed. “People like Kiko go in and out of the city,” he said, using Mr. Saint-Rémy’s nickname. “But we are the ones here cleaning his trash,” he added, referring to illegal weapons seized during a raid this year.
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BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.
Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.
An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.
Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.
found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.
hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.
While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.
After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.
Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.
Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”
Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.
A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.
Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.
“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”
sewn into the linings of clothes.
In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.
According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.
The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.
Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.
Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.
The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.
The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.
GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.
Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.
Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.
In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.
Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.
“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.
There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.
A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.
Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”
Spilling Into Jordan
While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.
“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.
Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.
Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.
“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.
The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.
The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.
And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.
Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.
“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”
Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The commander in charge of guarding the Haitian president’s home quickly became a suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last month when his security team inexplicably melted away, enabling hit men to enter the residence with little resistance and kill the president in his own bedroom.
But current and former officials say that the commander, Dimitri Hérard, was already a suspect in a separate case that the United States Drug Enforcement Administration has pursued for years: the disappearance of hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of cocaine and heroin that were whisked away by corrupt officials only hours before law enforcement agents showed up to seize them.
Now, some international officials assisting with the investigation into the president’s assassination say they are examining whether those criminal networks help explain the killing. Haitian officials, including the country’s prime minister, have acknowledged that the official explanation presented in the days after the assassination — that Mr. Moïse was gunned down in an elaborate plot to seize political office — does not entirely add up, and that the true motive behind the murder has not been uncovered.
Haiti is a major transit point for drugs heading to the United States, and American and United Nations officials say the trade flourishes through an array of politicians, businesspeople and members of law enforcement who abuse their power. Now, current and former officials say that Mr. Hérard has long been a focal point of the investigation into one of the biggest drug trafficking cases the D.E.A. has ever pursued in Haiti.
detained in connection with the assassination. The president’s widow has angrily demanded to know what happened to the dozens of guards Mr. Hérard commanded, and why none of them were killed when assailants stormed her home on July 7, wounding her and shooting her husband dead on the floor beside her.
they said they were rebuffed.
“The port is an open sewer,” Mr. Greco said.
Van Williams, another United Nations anti-narcotics supervisor based in Haiti at the time, agreed.
“There was very little importance placed on the docks, which I found very strange,” Mr. Williams said. “Corruption in Haiti from the top on down is so rampant.”
report earlier this year. Only five people have been convicted of drug trafficking in Haiti, and the government did not classify corruption as a crime until 2014, the report added.
as the killers stormed the house, pleading for help. Phone records and Mr. Hérard’s initial testimony also showed that Mr. Moïse had called him at 1:39 a.m. on the night of the killing. But Mr. Hérard and his unit never engaged the hit squad at the residence, instead mounting a roadblock some distance away, according to his initial police testimony.
reprimanded the D.E.A. for its handling of the Manzanares case and for not doing more to clean up Haiti’s ports.
“I went through hell, speaking the truth and trying to do the right thing,” said Mr. McNichols.
Anatoly Kurmanaev in Port-au-Prince and Julian Barnes in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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The leadership of Iran, engaged in a long shadow war with Israel on land, air and sea, did not try to conceal the pleasure it took in the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Over the 11 days of fighting this month, Tehran praised the damage being done to its enemy, and the state news media and conservative commentators highlighted Iran’s role in providing weaponry and military training to Palestinian militants in Gaza to hammer Israeli communities.
Iran has for decades supported Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza and whose own interests in battling Israel align with Iran’s. Experts say that over the years, Iran has provided Hamas with financial and political support, weapons and technology and training to build its own arsenal of advanced rockets that can reach deep into Israeli territory.
But in the assessment of Israeli intelligence, Hamas made its decisions independently of Iran in the latest conflict.
sabotaging of Iran’s nuclear facilities. While Iran’s leaders have made no secret of their desire to punish Israel for the wave of attacks, they have struggled to find an effective way to retaliate without risking an all-out war or derailing any chance for a revised nuclear accord with the United States and other world powers.
So the conservative factions in Iran that had been urging payback for the Israeli strikes seized on a chance to portray the thousands of rockets fired by the Gaza militants as revenge.
a devastating response from Israel’s vastly superior military, whose airstrikes killed scores of militants, destroyed 340 rocket launchers and caused the collapse of 60 miles of underground tunnels.
While the Israeli strikes may temporarily set back the military capability of Iran’s Gaza allies, Israel’s international standing does seem to be taking a beating with cracks in the once rock-solid support of Western allies.
Iran watched in dismay last year as four Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — normalized ties with Israel and declared Iran the biggest threat to regional stability. In the months before the Gaza fighting, Tehran lobbied intensely to prevent other Arab countries from following suit.
outraged Arab public opinion, could dim the prospects of any more countries in the region normalizing relations with Israel anytime soon.
hit civilian neighborhoods.
They celebrated the violent clashes erupting across Israeli cities between Jewish and Arab residents. And they felt that the Israeli strikes on Iran, including the assassinations of a top nuclear scientist and a leader of Al Qaeda, had been at least partly avenged.
“It feels like we had rage stuck in our throats against Israel, especially after the assassinations. And with every rocket fired, we gave a collective, deep sigh of relief,” said Mehdi Nejati, 43, an industrial project manager in Tehran who moderated a daily Clubhouse chat on developments in Gaza.
There was also much boasting on social media about Iran’s role in enabling militants to amass more advanced rockets.
While Israel will have to continue to contend with Iran’s influence in Gaza going forward, Tehran’s support for the militants there is just one of the many factors standing in the way of a longer-term peace, said Mr. Javedanfar, the political analyst.
“Confronting Iran is only going to be part of the solution for Israel’s challenge in Gaza,” he said. “A bigger part of the challenge can be solved with smarter Israeli policies in Jerusalem.”
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Sitting at a busy outdoor cafe and passionately discussing the news of the cease-fire with friends, Phillip Cohen, 60, an Israeli contractor, said, “It happened way too early.”
“We needed to achieve a decisive victory against Hamas — one that can really bring us greater quiet — but that unfortunately didn’t happen,” Mr. Cohen added. Pointing to the celebrations in Gaza, he said, “They were jumping for joy. They obviously have not been deterred,” suggesting the next round of violence was on the horizon.
Yaffa Balouka, 58, an officer manager, pushed back against Mr. Cohen, arguing that while she would like long-term quiet too, it was not a realistically achievable goal. “Either way, there will be another escalation or war,” she interjected. “If we can get some quiet now, we should take it.”
Others advocated a diplomatic solution and said Israel should focus less on war and more on fostering a peace process with the Palestinians. Though Israel, like the United States and much of the West, classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, and Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, some Israelis said the government needed to undo the blockade it imposes, with Egyptian help, on Gaza.
The blockade, which Israel says is necessary to stop weapons smuggling, has contributed to an unemployment rate of around 50 percent in Gaza, where poverty is rampant.
“War is not the solution to the rocket fire,” said Assaf Yakir, 27, a political science student at the University of Haifa. He recalled feeling disillusioned after serving in the army during the conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014.
“There was six weeks of fighting and nothing changed in the end,” he said. “It didn’t bring peace or quiet.”
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BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A prominent former commander of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, who was known by the nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, has been killed in Venezuela, according to three senior Venezuela government officials close to the country’s security forces.
The officials, who requested anonymity to discuss national security issues, did not say how he died. The armed group he ran confirmed his death in a message on its website, blaming the killing on Colombian special forces, without providing any evidence. Colombian officials say they are still working to confirm his death, and did not immediately respond to the group’s allegation.
The rebel leader, whose real name was Seuxis Hernández Solarte, helped lead the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, before becoming one of the negotiators who struck a peace deal with the Colombian government in 2016, ending five decades of war.
He then turned against the deal, and returned to arms.
Mr. Hernández — recognizable throughout the country because he often wore dark glasses and a checkered scarf — was, in many ways, a symbol of the difficult balance Colombia has had to strike as it works to leave behind the bloody conflict that displaced millions, killed at least 220,000 and defined the nation for generations.
accused him of returning to the drug trade, a violation of the accord.
Following his detention on those charges and eventual release from prison, he vanished from public view, only to reappear alongside another rebel leader, Luciano Marín, known by the alias Iván Márquez, in a 2019 video in which they issued a new call to arms, arguing the government had failed to uphold its end of the bargain.
That announcement by the two ex-leaders was a further blow to Colombians’ hopes for lasting peace, with the agreement having already been undercut by failures by both sides to comply with its terms. The country’s countryside is still the site of mass killings, forced displacement and the recruitment and killing of children.
Critics of the deal said Mr. Hernández was proof that the FARC would never give up fighting, or crime, while supporters of the agreement pointed out that a vast majority of former fighters have indeed given up arms — and claimed that the Colombian government’s failure to hold up its end of the deal was helping to push some people back to the jungle.
Colombian officials have claimed, without providing concrete evidence, that Mr. Hernández was hiding out in neighboring Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro, the leftist rival of the conservative Colombian government, has allowed Colombian armed groups to take refuge and even flourish. Several Colombian groups have taken over drug smuggling routes and illegal mining within Venezuela, according to security analysts and people living on the Colombia-Venezuela border.
accuse him of working to produce and distribute about 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.
Julie Turkewitz reported from Bogotá and Anatoly Kurmanaev reported from Mexico City. Mariana Martínez contributed reporting from Caracas.
Sewage systems have been destroyed, sending fetid wastewater into the streets of Gaza City. A critical desalination plant that helped provide fresh water to 250,000 people is offline, and water pipes serving at least 800,000 people have been damaged. Landfills are closed, with trash piling up. And dozens of schools have been either damaged or ordered to close, forcing some 600,000 students to miss classes on Monday.
The nine-day battle between Hamas militants and the Israeli military has created a humanitarian catastrophe that is touching nearly every civilian living in Gaza, a coastal territory of about two million people.
The level of destruction and loss of human life have underlined the challenge in the Gaza Strip, already overpacked with people and suffering under the weight of an indefinite blockade by Israel and Egypt even before the latest conflict.
President Biden added his voice to the growing chorus of international leaders calling for a cease-fire on Monday night, but there was little indication that an end to the hostilities was near on Tuesday morning.
an economic crisis and political crisis.
Hamas won elections in the territory in 2006 and took full control in 2007, after which Israel put a blockade on the region, citing the need to curb weapons smuggling. Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, also put in restrictions that tightly control the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory.
according to a report last year by the United Nations, is that Gaza has “the world’s highest unemployment rate, and more than half of its population lives below the poverty line.”
The latest round of fighting has crippled that fragile infrastructure.
Six hospitals and eight clinics have suffered bomb damage, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs office, limiting medical treatment available for many people living in the region.
By Monday, Israeli bombs had destroyed 132 residential buildings and damaged 316 housing units so badly that they were uninhabitable, according to Gaza’s housing ministry.
More than 40,000 people have been forced into shelters and thousands more have sought refuge with friends or relatives, according to the U.N. humanitarian affairs office.
“Until a cease-fire is reached, all parties must agree to a ‘humanitarian pause,’” the office said in a statement. “These measures would allow humanitarian agencies to carry out relief operations, and people to purchase food and water and seek medical care.”