Meet ‘Shabu,’ The Drug Fueling Islamic Extremism

REUTERS/Philippine National Red Cross via Reuters TV

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Radical Islamic militants in the Southern Philippines may be using illegal drugs to lock in new recruits and secure funding, the military said Thursday.

Military units have, on multiple occasions, engaged young Abu Sayyaf militants in battle who were “probably high on certain drugs, particularly shabu,” members of Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS), a division of the West Mindanao Command, told reporters.

Shabu, also known as ya ba, is methamphetamine hydrochloride. The drug has been produced by drug syndicates in the Philippines since 2010, according to the Philippines Center on Transnational Crime. Although there are a number of domestic producers, many of the entities involved in shabu production in the Philippines are said to have clear connections with international crime syndicates.

Shabu is one of the island nation’s most popular drugs of choice. It far outpaces other drug choices like marijuana and cocaine.

Shabu is used throughout East Asia, but the shabu problem in the Philippines is particularly severe. The 2012 United Nations World Drug Report said that the Philippines has the highest abuse rate in the region. In 2015, shabu was circulating in more than 90 percent of Manila neighborhoods.

New evidence indicates that shabu also plays a role in the Philippines’ increasingly troublesome Islamic militancy problem, particularly in the recruitment and funding of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“Drugs are being used to lure youngsters who may have been given ‘shabu’ for free and are recruited once they become addicted,” the JTFS explained. “Reports also indicate that money from ‘shabu’ is used to finance the group’s daily operations.”

With no known source of funding, the Abu Sayyaf Group has traditionally relied on kidnapping and extortion to generate revenue for its terrorist operations; however, the organization is suspected of involvement in the country’s illegal drug trade.

Abu Sayyaf is said to be behind drug proliferation operations in ZamBaSulTa, which covers Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

Former hostages told the JTFS that they had seen Abu Sayyaf militants taking and distributing shabu in their camps.

“Those guarding hostages are always high on drugs,” explained JTFS spokesman Col. Rodrigo Gregorio, relaying the testimony of the hostages.

Herman Bin Manggak, an Indonesian hostage who was released Sept. 22, witnessed firsthand the effects of the drugs on the Abu Sayyaf militants in battle. He said the militants were high and treated engagements with Philippines troops like games.

Amphetamines are common among jihadis both inside and outside of the Philippines.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reportedly uses a product known as captagon (fenethylline), a mixture of theophylline and amphetamine, to keep soldiers on their feet for days. Taken in large quantities though, it can dull feelings of pain, fear, and hunger. Captagon makes fighters feel invincible. ISIS soldiers are said to pop a few captagon pills before they rush into battle.

Captagon and knock-off versions of the drug are sold throughout the Middle East and have brought millions of dollars into Syria. Money from amphetamines and other drugs may fund ISIS weapons and ammunition purchases. Such tactics are not uncommon for terrorist organizations.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is investigating whether or not Abu Sayaff, an ISIS-linked organization, is actually taking over shabu operations in Zamboanga.

The Philippines is at war against both drugs and Abu Sayyaf.

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