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Iran says it just stopped 10 tons of heroin and opium reaching Europe

Tehran — Iran has seized almost 10 tons of narcotics destined for Europe and uncovered one of the country's largest trafficking rings, police said Thursday. "This huge narcotics shipment, which was hidden in a petrol tanker and reached here via Iran's eastern border, was supposed to be offloaded and then smuggled to European countries," state television reported from the northwestern city of Urmia, not far from the Turkish border.

Iran's deputy police chief Ayoub Soleimani said the shipment comprised 3.9 tons of morphine and 5.8 tons of opium. He said that nine suspected traffickers were arrested with an additional 44 pounds of heroin and 130 firearms in their possession.

Neighbouring Afghanistan produces some 90% of the world's opium, which is extracted from poppy resin and refined to make heroin and morphine.

Leveraging law enforcement 

Iran is a major transit route for Afghan-produced opiates headed to Europe and beyond. The illegal drugs are often first shipped from Iran and other Asian nations to east Africa, where smuggling networks help move it into Europe and even into the U.S. black market.

Iran confiscates and destroys hundreds of tons of illicit narcotics every year. According to the latest UN figures, Iran accounted for 91% of the world's opium seizures and 20% of heroin and morphine seizures in 2017, amounting to 694 and 43 tons respectively.

Iran has repeatedly threatened Europe that if it does not do more to mitigate the impact of U.S. sanctions imposed on its economy after President Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, it could invest less in combating drug trafficking.

Washington pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers last May and re-imposed sanctions on key sectors including as oil and banking, in addition to targeting Iranian military units and senior politicians.

An Iranian border guard looks through a
An Iranian border guard monitors an area known for drug trafficking activities in Milak, southeastern Iran, in a July 19, 2011 file photo. Getty

Mr. Trump said the moves were necessary to force Iran to renegotiate what he has called the "worst deal" ever negotiated. He believes the agreement gave Iran far too much economic reward for too little oversight of its nuclear program, and no promise to reign in its conventional weapons program.

But the moves by Washington have enraged Iran, seemingly leading the country to lash out with attacks on shipping, a U.S. military drone and, the U.S. and its allies say, the recent assault on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

Iran has sought to demonstrate that it has multiple means of responding to any perceived aggression, including proxy forces across the Middle East. With the seizure of narcotics on Thursday, Tehran clearly wanted to highlight yet another way it could chose to show its displeasure.

"Despite the international pressure and economic sanctions, Iran is still the world's bulwark against drug trafficking," state television reminded the world on Thursday. 

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