Saudi-bound Hezbollah narcotics haul seized in major drugs bust

Saudi-bound Hezbollah narcotics haul seized in major drugs bust
The tablets were concealed in mechanical parts which were being transported by sea from Lebanon. (SPA)
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Updated 09 September 2021

Saudi-bound Hezbollah narcotics haul seized in major drugs bust

Saudi-bound Hezbollah narcotics haul seized in major drugs bust
  • 451,807 amphetamine tablets seized
  • Shipment linked to Hezbollah terror group

RIYADH: Saudi authorities announced early Thursday the capture of a major Hezbollah drugs shipment, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The shipment, which included 451,807 amphetamine tablets and was destined for Saudi Arabia, was intercepted by Nigerian authorities.

The tablets were concealed in mechanical parts which were being transported by sea from Lebanon.

Col. Talal Chalhoub, interior ministry spokesperson, said that one of the “drug production and smuggling networks” of  Hezbollah was behind the attempt.

He said: “The shipment was seized in coordination with our counterparts in Nigeria before the network had the chance to ship it to another country.”

Chalhoub praised the cooperation with the Nigerian Interior Ministry in apprehending the drugs.

“The Kingdom will continue to monitor the criminal activities that target the Kingdom’s security and youth with drugs, counter and thwart them and arrest all those involved in such activities,” he said.

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In April, Saudi Arabia banned the import and transit of fruit and vegetables from Lebanon after authorities seized large quantities of Captagon pills that were hidden in a pomegranate consignment.

Customs authorities at Jeddah Islamic Port seized more than 7.8 million pills.

“Lebanese products are being used to smuggle drugs into the Kingdom’s territory, either through consignments intended for Saudi markets or those that transit through the Kingdom on their way to neighboring countries,” SPA reported at the time, adding that the most common products used to smuggle drugs were fruit and vegetables.

The pomegranate shipment entered Lebanon in stages through the Masnaa border crossing with Syria before it was transported to Saudi Arabia, a Lebanese customs source told Arab News in April.

The source said that Gulf states had long complained of drug smuggling operations to their territories from Syria via Lebanon.

The United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait had all backed the Saudi ban.

Lebanon’s fruit and vegetable trade with Saudi Arabia was worth around $24 million per year, according to a Lebanese official.

The Jeddah port bust was most likely linked to Hezbollah, who is a Shiite group closely aligned to Iran and have a prominent position in Lebanese politics as well as an active military wing, an unnamed source told the Independent Persian.

The source pointed to Hezbollah’s reputed association with the smuggling of drugs, including Captagon pills manufactured in Syria, a charge the group strenuously denies.

The source added that Hezbollah, by virtue of its authority over both “legal and illegal” border checkpoints between Syria and Lebanon, has unchecked control over all drug-related operations.

Captagon is an amphetamine, and one of the most commonly used drugs on Middle East battlefields.




Nigerian authorities seized 451,807 amphetamine tablets from Lebanon. (SPA)

Combatants addicted to the narcotic say it helps them stay awake for days and numbs their senses, giving them stamina for long battles and allowing them to kill with abandon.

Owing to its ability to make users energetic and happy, Captagon is known to have also become a popular recreational drug in the wider region.

Earlier in April, Greek authorities seized more than four tons of cannabis hidden in a shipment of dessert-making machines heading from Lebanon to Slovakia in the country’s main port of Piraeus, following a tip from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Greece’s authorities said that the street value of the drugs was estimated at $4 million and that Saudi Arabia’s drug enforcement agency assisted them in the case.

In 2018, the US State Department named Hezbollah among the top five global criminal organizations. Reports indicate that Hezbollah’s criminal operations have increased of late in response to Iranian directives to generate income as part of its efforts to dodge US sanctions.


Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest
Updated 24 October 2021

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest
  • Capt. Abdullah Al-Qarni was captured in Kuwait during first Gulf War; his death was not discovered until after Saddam’s fall

MAKKAH: After three decades, Capt. Abdullah Al-Qarni, a Saudi soldier who was captured by Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm and died in an Iraqi prison, finally returned home this week.

His remains arrived at King Abdulaziz airport on Oct. 21 and were taken to Makkah for funeral prayers and burial at the city’s Cemetery of Martyrs.

The chain of events that led to his death began on Aug. 2, 1990, when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait and took over the capital city within a matter of hours. The surprise attack was the beginning of a seven-month occupation of the country. In response, troops, tanks, artillery, ships and aircraft from more than 40 allied countries, led by the US, mobilized and gathered in the Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and the capital, Riyadh, for Operation Desert Storm, with the aim of driving the invaders out of Kuwait.

By Jan. 17, 1991, an allied force of more than 600,000 ground, sea and air troops had assembled and an aerial and naval bombardment began. This was followed a week later by a ground assault. Al-Qarni was among the troops.

Most of the casualties during the 42-day war were among the Iraqi troops, with some estimates suggesting as many as 35,000 were killed. Dozens of allied troops also died. Among the Saudi forces, 18 were killed and 32 wounded. Eleven Saudi prisoners of war were later returned unharmed to the Kingdom. 

The exact circumstances that led to Al-Qarni’s capture remain unknown but it was eventually confirmed he was in a prison in Iraq and apparently died there at some point in the decade that followed, though the details are unclear. Years of efforts by Saudi authorities to have his remains returned home to his family were finally rewarded this week.

The martyred soldier’s brother, retired Saudi navy veteran Saleem Al-Qarni, and cousin, Saleh Salman Al-Qarni, told Arab News that he had died a noble death, serving his nation until the very end.

Before the war, they said, he had bid his three daughters and wife farewell and left their home town of Shaaf in Qarn, in Asir region, and headed to Riyadh for some military training.

“A few months before the Gulf War in 1990, my brother was chosen among a group to train in Al-Muzahimiyah (west of Riyadh),” said Saleem. “After more than a month, the brutal attack on Kuwait occurred and they were ordered to go directly there on military missions.”

He said that his brother did not hesitate to join the fight but it is believed that after about five days in action he was captured and taken to Iraq. The family was informed and the Saudi government continued to monitor the condition of detainees. Saleem said his brother was believed to still be detained in Iraq when US-led forces invaded the country in 2002.

After the death of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the fall of his regime, however, no trace could be found in any prison of Al-Qarni or a group of his friends. Later, his remains were identified and the family faced a new battle to have them returned. But they never gave up hope and, with the help of the Saudi government, continued their campaign.

“The government also did a thorough follow-up of all necessary procedures, until his remains were identified and taken back home,” said Saleem.

“My brother died fearlessly defending our country. God granted him the honor of martyrdom while he was defending the region with his colleagues who knew of the sacrifices and were loyal, fearless and defended their country to the very end.”

In 2004 the family had a death certificate issued the following year, Saleem married his brother’s widow to take care of her and his three nieces, the youngest of whom Abdullah only saw for a day before shipping out. Together they had two more daughters and remained together as a family until she died in 2019.

Saleem explained that his parents endured a lot of suffering as a result of what happened to his brother. Because his whereabouts were unknown until his death was confirmed, they had clung to the hope that they might be reunited. His father died in 2000 and his mother in 2015.

Saleh said that the martyrdom of his cousin while defending his country was a source of the utmost honor, pride and nobility. He was very religious and loyal to his homeland and king, he added, and did his duty without hesitation for the sake of his country and region.

“We bid him farewell as a body and soul and welcome his remains,” said Saleh. “This situation creates mixed feelings of pain, loss and pride. We are comforted that he honored his duty. We lost his pure soul and beautiful spirit in the darkness of Iraqi prisons.”


Saudi data science camp graduates first student group

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group
Updated 24 October 2021

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group
  • The initiative aims to graduate more than 900 young professionals in data science and artificial intelligence during 2021

RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority celebrated on Friday the graduation of the first 35 graduates of the data science camp launched in July.

The SDAIA academy initiative aims to graduate more than 900 young professionals in data science and artificial intelligence during 2021.

The graduation ceremony was attended by Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha and SDAIA President Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, among other officials.

Meanwhile, 20 teams qualified for the boot camp stage of the second edition of the Global Artificial Intelligence Artathon.

The event will now move to workshops and training sessions aimed at building attendees skills and the opportunity to complete the final versions of their artworks.

Three teams will be nominated to win cash prizes of up to SR500,000 ($133,305).

The Artathon is one of the main initiatives of the World Artificial Intelligence Summit, where people interested in music, interactive art, drawing and stereoscopic art work together with data and AI experts to create artwork using AI techniques.

This edition received worldwide attention, with 8,400 artists and programmers representing 69 countries taking part, and 500 candidates representing 164 teams being selected.

During the ceremony, Al-Ghamdi congratulated the graduates and those who qualified for the second phase of the Artathon, praising “their tireless efforts that reflect their keenness to make the most of the programs offered to them.”

Al-Ghamdi said that improving national competencies in the field is one of the top priorities of the SDAIA. He added that it comes as a result of the support and guidance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is keen to support the national development process and achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

The second edition of the Global Artathon of Artificial Intelligence falls within the SDAIA’s partnerships with the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, Misk Art Institute and the Saudi Telecom Company, which sponsored the graduation ceremony.


Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies
Updated 24 October 2021

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Since February, Naser Almarri has been general director of the Seed Center — MEWA; chairman of the Committee of Seed Producers in Saudi Arabia; and general-secretary of the National Committee on Plant Genetic Resources 2019.

Before that, he was deputy director general at the Natural Resources Department from June 2016 to September 2018.

Almarri is a specialist in seed production policies and strategies, seed and plant genetic resources laws, seed production, quality control, seed certification, field, horticultural crops varieties evaluation, seed testing, plant genetic resources collection, storage, evaluation, identification and maintenance.

He has experience and knowledge spanning more than 20 years in the application of agricultural and environmental strategies, programs and projects to achieve food security and sustainable development of areas with diverse ecosystems.

Almarri has been Saudi Arabia’s representative at the Gulf Cooperation Council since Sept. 2018. He is a member of the Kingdom’s team preparing the first report on biodiversity for food and agriculture.

Almarri is a member of the team for the national transformation program and the coordinator in the preparation of reports on the strategy and national plan of forests.

He is a member of the preparatory committee of the Saudi Environment Council.

Almarri has been a member of the National Committee for the preparation of sustainable development indicators from January 2015 till now.

He has published several articles in the Riyadh newspaper on the environment, biodiversity for sustainable development, and seed production.

Almarri obtained a master’s degree in 2002 from King Saud University with a specialization in agriculture science. He completed a Ph.D. in 2014 from the University of Reading in England on the environment and seed physiology.


Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city
Updated 24 October 2021

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

MADINAH: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and his accompanying delegation arrived in Madinah on Saturday to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

Upon his arrival at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport, he was received by Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal, deputy governor of Madinah Region; Maj. Gen. Fahd bin Saud Al-Juhani, regional commander; Maj. Gen. Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah Al-Mashhan, regional police director; Ibrahim bin Abdullah Berri, director general of the Royal Protocol Office in Madinah; and many civilian and military officials.


Saudi Arabia unveils road map to achieve a carbon-neutral future

Saudi Arabia unveils road map to achieve a carbon-neutral future
Updated 24 October 2021

Saudi Arabia unveils road map to achieve a carbon-neutral future

Saudi Arabia unveils road map to achieve a carbon-neutral future
  • Saudi Green Initiative forum in Riyadh attended by energy and environment officials and decision-makers
  • Kingdom aims for “net zero” carbon emissions by 2060 while preserving its leading role in energy markets

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil exporter in the world, has committed itself to a carbon-neutral future at the Saudi Green Initiative in Riyadh.

Announcing a plan to reach “net zero” in carbon by 2060, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday said the move was in line with the Kingdom’s development plans, “while preserving and reinforcing its leading role in the security and stability of global energy markets.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announcing a plan to reach net zero by 2060 at the opening of the Saudi Green Initiative forum. (Screen grab from SGI video)

In a related announcement, Amin Nasser, the president and chief executive of Saudi Aramco, revealed plans to make the world’s biggest oil company a “net zero” operation by 2050. “The road will be complex and the transition will have challenges, but we are confident we can meet them and accelerate our efforts to a low-emission future,” he said.

The pledges were the most eye-catching items on a day when Saudi Arabia reasserted its ambition to lead the world in the battle against climate change, while retaining its traditional leadership in oil and gas markets.

Amin Nasser, the president and chief executive officer of Saudi Aramco,  (AN photo)

Nasser added: “We are not abandoning our existing sources of energy, but investing in new sources as well.”

Also notable was a commitment to double the amount of carbon the Kingdom will cut in its domestic economy, removing 278 million tons of the pollutant per year by 2030.

“These initiatives aim at modifying the Kingdom’s energy mix, rationing and increasing the efficiency of energy production and use, and investing in new energy sources, including hydrogen,” the crown prince said.

He also unveiled the first phase of the plan to eventually plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom over coming decades, with an initiative to plant 450 million trees by 2030, rehabilitating 8 million hectares of degraded land, and allocating new protected areas, to bring the total of protected land in Saudi Arabia to more than 20 percent of its total.

Saudi Arabia aims to plant more than 10 billion trees in the next two decades as part of the Saudi Green Initiative.

Much of the domestic initiative will be focused on the capital Riyadh, already in the middle of a “green” regeneration. “The transformation of Riyadh into one of the world’s most sustainable cities is already underway,” the crown prince said.

The first set of the new “green” initiative would require investment of SR700 billion, boosting job creation in Saudi Arabia and presenting investment opportunities for the growing private sector, in line with the Vision 2030 strategy to reduce economic dependency on oil.

But it was the net zero commitment and the pledge to remove twice as much carbon than before that caught the attention of the hundreds of attendees in Riyadh, coming as it did just days before the start of the UN’s COP26 summit on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland.

Fahad Al-Rasheed, president of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City. (AN photo)

The Kingdom joins a growing number of countries that have pledged net zero by 2060 — such as China and Russia — rather than the accelerated goal of 2050 some Europeans and North Americans want.

INNUMBERS

278 million tons of carbon will be removed by 2030 in the Kingdom.

10 billion trees will be planted in Saudi Arabia over the next decades.

13 million Saudi Arabia’s new oil production capacity in bpd.

Some environmental activists have in the past criticized the Kingdom for not adopting a net zero target, and for not doing more to cut domestic carbon output. The new targets will go a long way to satisfying critics of the Kingdom as part of the debate on “nationally determined contributions” (NDC) that could figure prominently in COP26.

Nasser said: “We have to consider that this announcement comes from the biggest hydrocarbon producer in the world. To make that type of commitment is something great, and I’m sure others will follow the leadership of the Kingdom.”

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi energy minister, thought that the Kingdom could meet the net-zero commitment before the 2060 timetable, using the framework of the Circular Carbon Economy, which aims to reduce, reuse, recycle and remove CO2 greenhouse gasses.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi energy minister, speaking during the forum. (AN photo)

He said that technologies to help meet the new targets would be fully mature by 2040, boosting the plans to meet the goals and providing an example to others.

“The Kingdom is not seeking financial support or grants to achieve this NDC and it will use the best suited technology to do so,” the minister stressed.

“We can shift our energy mix by using 50 percent in empowering the power sector and all utilities, therefore 50 percent will be done on renewables and the other 50 percent will be the development of more gas. That 50/50 will be a major component in that reduction we have discussed,” he said.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the event in Tuwaiq, Nasser explained that Aramco would meet its 2050 deadline by focusing on emissions from its own wholly owned facilities, and not from its overseas operations, where it was “out of our control.”

Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, UAE special envoy for climate change. (AFP)

Nasser said that there was no contradiction between its net-zero goal and Aramco’s strategy on increasing oil production, pointing out that Aramco crude was less polluting than other types of oil, and that it was also planning to introduce strict controls on methane output, which is potentially more harmful than CO2.

He added that because of a shortfall in energy investment in recent years, spare capacity was declining fast in the global industry. “With the opening of economies there will be more usage of hydrocarbons, more need, more demand, and you will end up in not a good situation.

“We’re doing our part by maintaining our 12 million bpd, building capacity by an additional 1 million barrels, but the rest of the world needs to do its part. Demonising the hydrocarbon industry is not good to help anyone,” he added.

Abdullah Al-Swaha, Saudi Minister of Communication and Technology. (AN photo)

The SGI event will be held every year, allowing for a check on the Kingdom’s progress towards its goals on climate change. “We want to be held accountable,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

There were three areas of focus, he added: “Energy security, sustainable economic growth and prosperity, and attending to the serious issue of climate change. We can achieve all three without compromising a single one of them.”

The new Saudi commitment was a message to the world, the prince said. “It enables us to say that we are with you. We share the same concern. We want to evolve.”

Amro Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission of AlUla. (AN photo)

But he insisted that some of the more extreme solutions, like banning hydrocarbons and halting investment in oil and gas, were not practical proposals for dealing with climate change.

“The world cannot operate without fossil fuels, without hydrocarbons, without renewables … none of these things will be the savior. It has to be a comprehensive solution,” he said.