Hezbollah denies links to drug kingpin killed in Syria
BEIRUT (Reuters) - The head of Lebanon's powerful armed group Hezbollah on Friday denied his group was involved in narcotics smuggling and said it had no links to an alleged drug kingpin killed in Syria this week.
On Monday, rare Jordanian air strikes killed a drug smuggler in southern Syria and hit a narcotics factory that local and intelligence sources linked to Hezbollah.
"We don't smuggle drugs, we smuggle weapons," Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech, saying the group would never be "contaminated... with the filth of drugs."
Nasrallah said the accusation was "a lie, an injustice, a betrayal, a conspiracy" and hinted that his party was helping curb the drug trade in Lebanon.
"I can say it for the first time. In many areas, had it not been for Hezbollah, would the Lebanese state have been able to do what it is doing now, in terms of dismantling the captagon factories and confronting many drug hotbeds and gangs in Lebanon?" he said.
Captagon is an amphetamine-like drug that regional officials say is produced in Syria and partly along the Lebanese border, then exported to the Gulf. They accuse Hezbollah of having a role in the production and trade and in March sanctioned two people affiliated to the group.
The conservative Shi'ite Islamist faction was founded in 1982 in Lebanon by Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps. It says its arms are needed to protect Lebanon, but its opponents say the group's arsenal undermines the state.
(This story has been corrected to say the kingpin was killed in Syria, not Jordan, in paragraph 1)
(Reporting by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Alex Richardson)