Drugs via WhatsApp: Police in UAE bust gangs that promote, deliver narcotics through social media

Special report: Cops highlight what you should and should not do on receiving such random messages from strangers


Afkar Ali Ahmed

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Published: Sun 29 Jan 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 29 Jan 2023, 8:15 PM

Hundreds of UAE residents have reported that they have been bombarded with strange WhatsApp messages from anonymous senders — and no matter how many times they block the numbers, they keep getting the chats.

Thousands of such complaints have landed on the police's desks, prompting the authorities to intensify a crackdown and issue a warning: Never respond to these messages.

These suspicious texts are sent by drug dealers looking for buyers, according to the police.

"The criminals would typically share GPS coordinates of the location of the drugs —which were usually buried in remote areas," explained Brig Khalid bin Muwaiza, acting director of the General Department of Anti-Narcotics in Dubai.

Some gangs would also send pictures, videos, and audio clips on how to buy drugs, claiming that they could deliver the items anywhere.

Bin Muwaiza said they had received more than 2,200 reports about these anonymous messages last year and, during this period, 527 drug dealers were arrested.

Police forces across the country spare no effort in fighting drug rings and their illegal activities, he stressed.

However, the concern that their messages have succeeded in getting a response from people out of curiosity — especially the youth — remains an issue, the officer added.

"The most frequent complaints indicated that no matter how many times residents blocked these numbers, the messages keep coming from different ones," Bin Muwaiza said.

"This was expected as the criminals and dealers are developing new techniques and take advantage of the latest technologies to reach addicts, in particular, and members of the public, in general," he explained.

In Sharjah, thousands of similar complaints were reported last year.

Lt-Col Majed Al Asam, director of the Anti-Narcotics Department at the Sharjah Police, said drug messages are also being circulated via other social media platforms, as dealers try to cast a wider net in search of potential buyers.

Many of these gangs operate outside the country, but they are tapping accomplices within the UAE to hand over the drugs to those who have expressed interest, Al Asam said.

"They ask people to deposit money in local bank accounts and send the location of the drugs which they bury in sandy areas," he added.


Beware: Gangs could use your bank account for illegal drug trade

A senior officer from the Abu Dhabi Police is warning residents against opening bank accounts for people they barely know.

"As a result of a crackdown on their activities, drug dealers are trying to find ways to use others' bank accounts as a channel through which they can get their buyers' payments," the official said.

Victims usually have no idea that allowing these people to use their bank accounts could get them charged for being involved in illegal drug trade and money laundering.

"Some were tricked into opening bank accounts and transferring money regularly in what they thought were normal business operations," the officer added.


Dealers arrested

As these drug syndicates started targeting people in the UAE over the last two years, police forces across the country immediately launched a crackdown, which led to the arrest of hundreds of dealers and accomplices.

Massive drug trafficking networks were busted, particularly those who had been sending suspicious messages to residents. Several social media accounts that peddled narcotics were blocked.

A top official of the Abu Dhabi Police said that together with their partners, they recently arrested as many as 142 criminals involved in such activities in separate areas across the country.

Some 816kg of various narcotic substances were seized during the cross-border operations.

The police closely monitored the random messages that the gangs were sending out on WhatsApp using international phone numbers. Then, they exerted all efforts to pin down the culprits.


Raising awareness, monitoring the youth

Residents' cooperation is a big help for the police's war on drugs. Those who receive random messages are urged to do two things: Ignore the sender and report the incident to the police.

“The police pay extra attention to the comments and reports they receive from the public about these types of messages," said Brig Bin Muwaiza.

To further raise public awareness, the second edition of 'Anonymous Messages' campaign was launched recently in partnership with Hemaya International Centre.

The Umm Al Quwain Police have also rolled out a drive to educate the public on the gangs' modus operandi.

A top officer called on residents to quickly report suspicious messages by calling the Umm Al Quwain Police on 0501321817 or via WhatsApp.

The Fujairah Police launched their own campaign to warn the community of the dangers of drug abuse, and its effects on health.

Lt-Col Khaled Rashid Al Saadi, deputy director of the Anti-Narcotics Department in Fujairah, stressed that drug dealers are constantly trying to lure young people to addiction.

This is why parents should always keep an eye on their children and their activities online.

Other government entities are pitching in to put an end to the drug traffickers' operations.

The Federal Public Prosecution — through an awareness video it shared recently — called on individuals to report drug dealers through the 'Safe Community' application.

Through this channel, they can easily file a complaint in complete confidentiality.

Know the law: Fine and imprisonment

Sharing any information on drug trafficking and promotion on social media is a crime punishable by hefty penalties, the Federal Public Prosecution said.

Whoever establishes or runs a website or publishes information related to the trafficking or promotion of narcotics could face imprisonment and fine of no less than Dh500,000, according to Article 31 of Federal Decree-Law No. 34.

Those who are caught sending money to buy drugs could also be jailed and fined Dh50,000 or more, according to Article 64/1 of Federal Decree-Law No. 30 of 2021.

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