How a Drug Kingpin is Running Flights from Damascus to the World

© Youssef Badawi / EPA-EFE
How a Drug Kingpin is Running Flights from Damascus to the Rest of the World

Karam Shaar, Mohamad Orwani, Traci Lawrence, Baraa Khurfan, Muhsen al-Mustafa, and Wael al-Alwani

A new travel agency with offices in Damascus and Dubai recently announced direct flights from Damascus to European cities for the first time in over a decade. Our research reveals that the agency and its Greece-based “exclusive” partner airline are associated with drug kingpin Mahmoud Abdulilah al-Dj, who has been sentenced to death in Libya for drug trafficking. Al-Dj is also the exclusive agent of US-sanctioned Cham Wings in Libya, which has been accused of “[laundering] money throughout the region” and “[moving] weapons and equipment for the Syrian regime.” We’re concerned that the Greek airline, Air Mediterranean, could wittingly or unwittingly be doing the same. Air Mediterranean might have also engaged in the unsafe aviation practice of switching a transponder off during a flight.


- In compliance with existing sanctions regulations, the EU, US, and other Western countries should sanction al-Dj and his affiliated persons and companies, such as his brother Abdulfattah and FreeBird Travel and Tourism. 

- Due to Air Mediterranean’s connections to drug kingpin Mahmoud al-Dj and the Syrian regime, and its potentially unsafe aviation practices, the European Union (EU) should consider blocking the airline from operating in EU airports until an investigation is completed and, in accordance with EU regulations, threaten it with sanctions if it continues its affiliation with al-Dj.

- Western governments should coordinate with Emirati authorities to investigate FreeBird’s operations in Dubai.

- Western governments should coordinate with authorities in Eastern Libya to halt Air Mediterranean and Cham Wings flights to Benghazi.

- The report highlights the need for enhanced monitoring of the activities of drug kingpins and the affiliates of the Assad regime.

To view the report, click here

This study is published as part of The Syria Sanctions Policy Program (SSPP).