CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian police have seized a 15 tonne truckload of marijuana, the biggest drug haul in the country’s history, which was being smuggled west out of the Sinai Peninsula toward the Nile Valley.
The truck carrying the drug, known as “bango” in Egyptian slang, was stopped as it tried to pass through a tunnel under the Suez Canal. It ranks among the biggest recorded seizures in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“The driver is being questioned for information about the party from which he obtained the drugs,” said General Adel Rifaat, the head of security in the Suez province.
“This is the biggest one in the history of the country,” he added.
Cannabis farmers have exploited lax security in Sinai to expand cultivation since the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011, Rifaat said.
The rise in cannabis cultivation reflects broader lawlessness in Sinai, with the expansion of militant Islamist groups which the state is now trying to crush.
“The quantity of drugs coming from Sinai increased after the Revolution because of the lack of security operations which had targeted bango crops,” Rifaat said. “The lack of operations against the crops caused big production of bango.”
Of 22,330 seizures of marijuana recorded by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Egyptian haul would rank as the 45th largest, or the 12th largest reported since 2010.
“It’s definitely very big,” said Thomas Pietschmann, research officer with UNODC, speaking by telephone from Vienna. It was bigger than any previous seizure reported by Egypt, he added.
The marijuana produced in Egypt is mostly consumed in the domestic market, Pietschmann said.
Global cannabis herb seizures amounted to 6,251 tonnes in 2010, with the largest annual seizures reported from Mexico and the United States of America.
Reporting by Yousri Mohamed in Ismailia and Tom Perry in Cairo; Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Jane Baird