Iran has executed a notorious drug kingpin nicknamed the ‘Crocodile of the Persian Gulf’ and his smuggling ring dismantled.

He was arrested during a sting operation while transferring more than 100 tonnes of drugs in international waters, officials said.

The 36-year-old ringleader, only identified by the initials ‘AZ’, and his accomplice ‘MH’ were killed following a long-running intelligence operation to smash their smuggling ring.

Amnesty International says the country executed at least 253 people in 2018. That represents a drop of 50% from the 507 executed the year before, credited to changes in the country’s strict anti-narcotics laws.

The ‘Crocodile’ was operating under different guises and aliases Hormozgan province chief prosecutor Ali Salehi told ISNA news agency.

“He led one of the biggest and most vicious drug-trafficking networks in Iran and the region,” he said.

Other members of the gang received prisons sentences of up to five years, or heavy fines, he said.

The gang laundered money and used the proceeds of the drug trade to purchase real estate – some of which has now been seized by the government.