JAKARTA, Indonesia — A group of 10 alleged Iranian drug smugglers, including eight veiled women, were caught with $12.5 million worth of methamphetamines at Indonesia's main airport, the customs chief said Wednesday.
The group was picked up at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport with 60 pounds (27 kilograms) of crystal methamphetamine and 5 gallons (23 liters) of the drug in liquid form, said customs chief Anwar Suprijadi.
It is the largest drug bust in the airport's history, he said, describing how the group had arrived on flights from Malaysia, Syria and Qatar on Monday and Tuesday.
Indonesian authorities have never seen veiled women used as drug runners, he said. The drugs, wrapped in plastic food containers and cleaning fluid bottles, were packed into hand luggage. But the oddly-shaped packages were picked out by officers operating scanners.
"We believe they are part of an international syndicate," he said. By wearing conservative Islamic clothing the women tried to "fool officers in a country like Indonesia, where women in black veils are generally considered to be good women."
Nine suspects were paraded in front of the media at an airport detention facility Wednesday, while a tenth is said to have attempted suicide and was in a hospital. A 26-year-old man, who allegedly carried the liquid drug from Doha, tried to sever an artery with a razor blade.
Police said they were trying to uncover a possible link to the arrest on Monday of another Iranian and an American in raids that netted more than 12 pounds (5.6 kilograms) of methamphetamines at an apartment and a hotel room in the nearby capital.
Deputy chief of investigations Dikdik Maulana Mansyur estimated the seizure was worth $950,000. He said the 35-year-old American, who posed as a tourist to make deliveries to local hotels, faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
The Iranian, 40, has a previous drug conviction from 2002 and can expect a tougher sentence, he said.
Indonesia has extremely strict drug laws and traffickers are regularly sentenced to death. By the end of 2008, about 140 people were on death row, including more than 40 foreigners, most of them for drug-related crimes.
Customs offices across Indonesia, a vast Muslim-majority nation of 235 million people, were warned to be on the lookout for other possible smuggling attempts. Poor law enforcement, corruption and high demand make Indonesia an attractive location for drug producers.